A Story Worth Telling (July 17, 2013)

By CATHERINE ELLERTON

Moapa Valley Progress

Dan Beckdahl

The plate flew through the air and shattered to the floor causing everyone in the room to sit up and pay attention. A loud voice boomed out “You’re on your own now – come back to visit!”

Now before you get all weepy eyed – this is an old Scandinavian custom. When a child leaves home for the first time, their dinner plate is broken.

Young Daniel Beckdahl had just been served his draft papers. The year was 1965 and Beckdahl had just turned eighteen years old. Although he had been born in Springfield, Missouri, his folks were missionaries and traveled the world. He had lived in India and in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. It was there that the U.S. Embassy Marine came to visit and to deliver the draft papers.

Beckdahl chose to join the Navy and headed to Michigan and then on to Camp Pendleton, California, for his Basic Training. He was trained as a Mechanic and soon became an Engineman working on ship’s engines. Soon he was transferred into specialty training in underwater demolitions (UDT). He was assigned to a Navy Landing Craft – the LST824 – and was shipped to DaNang via San Diego and Hawaii.

It was there that he joined the elite “Gator Navy.” This group was also known as the “brown water navy” as they sailed aboard small landing crafts going up and down the rivers and backwaters of South Vietnam supplying food, ammo, parts, fuel and medical support to the troops stationed in the jungles. They cruised up the Quivet River to the Cambodian border. When the LST couldn’t make it up the river they would switch to smaller boats – the LVT.

For the next 6 years he was a member of the River Rats working the rivers of Vietnam. And it was not without incident. One of the favorite tricks of the Viet Cong was to enclose plastic explosives in bags and float them down the river. Dan’s boat ran out of luck on one trip and hit one of these explosive devices. He laughingly states that it was a good thing they knew how to swim. They headed for the shore to wait on the beach until the next LVT came along.

As Beckdahl was trained in underwater explosives he was also the one who was elected to retrieve the bodies of those whose boats met the same fate.

He recalls that he was once caught in a typhoon south of Japan that split the LST in half. They made it to Yokosuka, Japan, where they welded the two halves back together and continued their mission.

When Beckdahl received his Honorable Discharge in 1972 he says he received the highest medal – his life. His service to his country and the military effort did not stop, however.

Many of these Vietnam veterans when they returned home were not greeted warmly. Was it the times? Was it because it was an Occupation not a War? But these men and women could not find work nor medical help nor any type of support from the community.

Eventually he did land a job with AT&T. Alaska was his home base. He was later sent to work on communication systems in Panama, Kuwait (Gulf War), Baghdad (Iraq War) and Kabul, Afghanistan (Afghanistan War). In Alaska they serviced all the “DEW Line” communication towers which are an early warning line from Russia through Alaska, through Thule, Greenland and on to Hawaii. Because of his high security clearance, Dan ended up in Moscow, Russia, working on securing the U.S. Embassy.

While in Alaska he became a member of the Alaska Territorial Guard (which is compared to the National Guard in the lower 48).

After 26 plus years with AT&T, Dan finally retired. He put a snow shovel on the front of his motor home and headed south. He stopped when someone asked him what that object was.

Dan and his wife, Lynne, still reside in Overton.

He joined both the VFW and the American Legion. He is the current Commander of the local VFW. Dan’s goal is to bring the two organizations closer together – working together for the common good and for the community.

Currently the members keep very busy fixing cars and taking care of house maintenance problems for members of the community and for veterans who need a helping hand.

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