Dale McKnight was 18 when he joined the Marine Corps with a few friends from Bottineau.
“We wanted something different from our small town,” McKnight said.
By 19 years old, he’d be part of history as one of the last Marines helicoptered out of the embassy in Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon.
“There was 21 Marines that they handpicked to do the evacuation, and on the embassy, there’s two different levels, there’s a helo pad is at the very top and then down below, there’s another stage of the roof.
The first 10 Marines left, and there was 11 of us left. It was about 9 at night and we went all night long waiting for the last helicopter to come and we didn’t know if it was going to come, and they assured us. Of course, we’re young kids really.
Then about 7:30 in the morning they landed on the roof, the last 11 were picked up by Colonel Holden from Missouri. He knew we were there when he landed on the USS Canal, and they told them there were 11 Marines left, he couldn’t believe it.
We were basically abandoned on the roof. It wasn’t the Marine Corps that did it. It was the government who called it off and just left us there. Then after we got out of there, the ones involved got the commendations,” McKnight said.
McKnight vividly remembers that day.
“It wakes you up real quick. I mean, we grew up real fast in the Marine Corps, we thought we were tough kids from Bottineau ’til we got in there and found out we weren’t,” McKnight said.
He recalls saving some of the South Vietnamese refugees — though not everyone could evacuate.
“The worst part is we left a lot of South Vietnamese, we had to abandon them because they called the mission out,” McKnight said. “In Vietnam, it’s 100 degrees and this lady was sitting there. She had little kids with her. She was probably 90 years old. I had two canteens of water. I handed them a canteen and they took a little capful, that’s all they would drink.”
McKnight left the service at 21.
“The best thing I ever did was join the Marine Corps,” he said.
For the last 33 years, McKnight has owned McKnight Woodworks in Center, North Dakota. He sells custom-made cabinets and even gives away flag cases to fellow veterans.
“We just donate them. Like I said, it helps me and keeps me involved in the veterans. Anything to do with military I have a compassion for that,” McKnight said.
McKnight also owns Lucky Bows, selling bows he handcrafts to be used in traditional archery. He says his father was a painter and his grandfather was a carpenter, which is how he learned woodworking.