Ed Dahlgren of Aroostook County, Maine
From Yankee magazine September 1981
He grew up in Aroostook County, Maine, and when he came home in August of 1945, President Truman awarded him the Congressional Medal of Honor. Over the subsequent years, most of them spent working 60 hours a week in the potato fields, his kids often pulled the medals out of his bureau drawer but they never knew what he’d done to receive them. Intuitively, they never asked…
Congressional Medal of Honor Citation: “On 11 February 1945, Second Lieutenant (then Sergeant) Edward C. Dahlgren, U.S. Army, Company E, 142nd Infantry, 36th Infantry Division, led the 3rd Platoon to the rescue of a similar unit which had been surrounded in an enemy counterattack at Oberhaffen, France. As he advanced along a street, he observed several Germans crossing a field about 100 yards away. Running into a barn, he took up a position in a window and swept the hostile troops with submachine gun fire; killing six, wounding others and completely disorganizing the group…
He always could shoot. He grew up in Aroostook County, Maine, and when he wasn’t picking potatoes, or packing them in a warehouse, he was fishing or hunting, a good enough shot to shoot the heads of two partridges one after the other with a .30-.30.
But when the war ended in Europe and he returned to the States in August 1945, he couldn’t shoot at all. He came on leave to his sister Ruth’s house in South Portland. He was thin as a rail, having lost over 40 pounds from his 5’9″ frame. He couldn’t eat. His hands shook so that water splashed when he drank. Sometimes his body trembled uncontrollably. He stammered.
His sister Ruth knew it had been bad. His letters had read like a history of some of the most terrible fighting in Europe: Salerno. Cassino, where he had been shot through the shoulder. Rapido River. Anzio. The invasion of southern France. Winter in the Vosges Mountains. Germany and the Siegfried Line. Austria. Once he was on the front lines for 130 days without a break, in combat every day. “I just wore out,” he told her. “I just wore out.”
On his second day at his sister’s he dropped a kidney stone, doubling over with a pain more severe-than any he had felt during the war. He went to the VA, who told him he’d have to prove it was related to the war, and he couldn’t, though he knew it had to be. He developed jaundice. His skin paled and yellowed. He lost more weight. But he was home. And soon, on August 23. in the nation’s largest mass awarding of the Medal of Honor, he would join 27 other soldiers in receiving America’s highest award for valor in combat.
“…His platoon then moved forward through intermittent sniper fire and made contact with the besieged Americans. When the two platoons had been reorganized, Sgt. Dahlgren continued to advance along the street until he drew fire from an enemy-held house. In the face of machine-pistol and rifle fire, he ran toward the building, hurled a grenade through the door, and blasted his way inside with his gun. This aggressive attack so rattled the Germans that all eight men who held the strongpoint immediately surrendered…”
Late August was a good time to be a hero. The bombs had been dropped on Japan and the formal peace treaty ending the war was just nine days away. It rained in Washington and instead of meeting on the White House lawn the men gathered in the gilded, chandeliered East Room. It would be front-page news across the nation. a final rendering of war stories, 28 tales of both the best and the worst of what war does to man. Reporters asked, “How many did you kill?” until someone snapped. “We didn’t stop to count.” Photographers with big, hot floodlights sent in pictures of dazed, hollow-eyed men sitting stiffly in rows of wooden chairs, looking uncomfortable and slightly scared.
At 10 A.M. President Truman strode in. He called the men to the platform, one by one, in alphabetical order. An aide read the citations of each man, and then the President draped the blue-ribboned medal around their necks, saying he’d rather wear the Medal of Honor than be President of the United States. Then Truman strode out, followed by the Army brass who saluted the men. And the men pondered what General George Marshall had said to them. “Well, what are you going to do now?”
Ed Dahlgren returned to his sister’s house where he went to the movies nearly every day, and took long walks on the nearby beaches. At 9 P.M. on November 5 he got off the train in Caribou. He had come to his real home. He was Maine’s only living Medal of Honor holder but be was met by only his two uncles. He went quietly to his Uncle John’s house in the tiny town of Colby, where Ed had grown up after his father had died.
He stayed close to the house that winter, and worked awhile packing potatoes in the warehouse he had worked in as a boy. His army division had been the Texas National Guard outfit and his buddies, whose lives he had saved, would write, urging him to come down, the possibilities were endless in Texas. Whenever he’d get a letter from Texas he’d write back that he’d be coming. First he had to pull things together.
“…As Sgt. Dahlgren started towards the next house, hostile machine-gun fire drove him to cover, He secured rifle grenades, stepped to an exposed position, and calmly launched his missiles from a difficult angle until he had destroyed its two operators…”