Proud Korean War vets: 'Once in a while you dream of it'

July 14, 2013 

Oliver Dahm had a job, a new car and had just celebrated his 25th birthday when he got a notice from the U.S. Army.

"The 14th of January 1949. I got drafted in that peacetime draft," said Oliver, 89, who lived most of his life in Belleville. "I had bought a brand new Mercury. I was working at Stag brewery."

He went in as a private first class as part of the 2nd Infantry Division. Thirteen months later, he was discharged -- but not for long.

"In June of '50, Korea started," said Oliver, sitting in his Garden Place apartment in Millstadt. "They called me back in October. When they call you back, you just do what they tell you. When I got out of Korea, I was a corporal with two stripes."

He also had a metal plate in his head, where he'd been shot on the extremely cold night of Feb. 12, 1951.

"They broke through our lines and had all our stuff," he recalled. "Guys with machine guns knew exactly where we were. They opened fire on us and we scrambled to avoid being hit ..." Oliver volunteered to move a jeep out of danger after the driver was killed. Before he could, he got hit.

"I began to feel a burning hot sensation in the back of my head. A bullet had traveled through my helmet, through the helmet liner and dropped into my neck. It was hot.

"If I had had my hat up another inch, I wouldn't have known what was going on."

He and other soldiers hunkered down until a U.S. tank came through and picked them up.

"Back in friendly territory, an officer and driver took me to a first aid station,' he said. "It was 22 below zero that night. I didn't have much pain, I was conscious."

He described the field hospital as a "M*A*S*H-like" unit.

"They couldn't wake me up at first after they operated. They finally got me back. I have a spot on my head where I got hit," Oliver said, touching a place on the left side of his head. "They put me on an airplane and sent me to Japan to recuperate. When I got over to Japan, they said I was going stateside."

But his orders sent him back to Korea.

"I was driving an ambulance, getting people off the front. There's not much you can say. You just do what they want."

And then you go home.

Oliver was discharged in November 1951.

He and his brother bought a service station in '52, and owned it six years ("You didn't get rich in that, I will tell you."). He married Florence Haas on Oct. 16, 1954 ("We met on a blind date. She was 11 days younger than I was."). They had a son, David, and a daughter, Ann. He also has three grandchildren and two great-grandchldren.

Oliver eventually became a letter carrier. He worked 23 years on the west end of Belleville, near Queen of Peace parish.

"He could still tell you today who lived in what house," said his daughter, Ann Niebur. "He's number oriented. He remembers phone numbers and addresses from 25 years ago."

Oliver retired at age 60.

"At the end of December, I will be retired 30 years," he said. "I will be 90 on December 31 ... My wife died the 29th of December 2005. It will be 8 years. We were married 51 years. She had Alzheimer's."

For years, Oliver belonged to the Catholic War Vets. He was one of the charter members of Althoff's Bingo.

"He worked it for 39 1/2 years," said Ann, "every Monday night."

He still plays bingo and pinochle.

His last car?

"I had a '91 Mercury. I sold it the 16th of November a year ago."

Oliver spent 2 1/2 years in the Army, but doesn't say much about it.

"We knew he had been in the war and been hit," said Ann. "That's all there was to it."

His advice to current soldiers: "Do your best and stick it out."

It's what he did.

"Once in a while, you dream of it," he said. "Sixty years ago. It don't hardly seem that way, but it is ....

"Whenever I go to a parade or something like that with the patriotic music going, you feel really proud."

About the Korean War

When did it begin? June 25, 1950, six years after World War II ended.

Why? North Korea crossed the 38th parallel, invading South Korea. That resulted in the capture of the republic's capital, Seoul, within four days. The United States, the United Kingdom and other members of the United Nations moved to actively defend South Korea, an effort that lasted three years, until July 27, 1953.

How many served? More than 1.8 million, according to Defense Department figures.

How many died? More than 33,000.

How was it resolved? An armistice established the 38th parallell as a permanent demilitarized zone.

Nickname: The forgotten war. The war-weary United States was ready to move on, but nervous about communism and how far it would spread.

What's happening there now? Tensions continue. North Korean nuclear missile threats in April put the world on edge.

How many American troops remain in Korea? 37,000

Want to know more? To learn about the July 27 national event and the Korean War, visit the website at www.koreanwar60.com.

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