BISMARCK, N.D. (KXNET) — Nearly 60 years ago, he was a teenager from Baldwin who was ready to serve his country, and 57 years later, Dale Thomsen has worn many hats and raised a family in Bismarck.
In this edition of Veterans Voices, Thomsen says he’ll never forget his time in the Vietnam War and one terrifying night that changed his life.
Walking through a parking lot, this is where Dale Thomsen starts most of his mornings.
“I’ve been driving bus 41 for 20 years,” Thomsen said. “A long time.”
Never one to sit still for long, Thomsen considers himself a project guy. He’s happiest when he’s active.
“I like kids, it’s something to do. It gets me up out of bed and on the road for the day,” Thomsen said.
Those who know him say Dale’s been that way his entire life.
“That’s the way I still am today. I can do a job, I just have to do it,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen enlisted in the Army in 1966. Two years later, he was serving a tour in Vietnam as a specialist in the 14th Transportation Battalion. His job was to repair crashed helicopters.
“We always had something to work on,” Thomsen said. “There were always crashed helicopters.”
That was how the year passed for Thomsen until one night in March.
“It just doesn’t happen. But then reality was there. We had a bunker built between our tent and the next tent. I never made it to the bunker,” Thomsen said. “I crawled under a bed and laid there and shook until it quit.”
A mortar shell exploded just a few feet from Thomsen’s tent. He says a piece of shrapnel hit him in the elbow. Fortunately, Thomsen says the injury wasn’t serious and he was quickly treated and went back to work.
“His dad was pretty worried when he got the telegram. He had somebody else read it to him. Because he was afraid what it would say,” Dale’s wife Linda said.
Fortunately, in April 1968, Dale’s tour was up, and he headed home to his family. But he was also awarded a Purple Heart.
“I wear it with pride. I was a fortunate one. I came home,” Thomsen said.
That wasn’t the last time Thomsen was thanked for his service. This year, he was also nominated for a trip to West Point hosted by the National Purple Heart Mission.
“It was pretty special. Only one person from each state gets selected,” Thomsen said.
“Sometimes he probably thinks they don’t have to do everything they do, but I think he’s grateful,” Linda said.
When he’s not traveling, you’ll find Thomsen back behind the wheel on his morning bus route.
“It doesn’t seem like it should be 20 years already. It’s like anything else, time just buzzes by,” Thomsen said.
Thomsen says 20 years, three kids, and almost 60 years later since he last wore the uniform, his memory is as sharp as ever.
Thomsen has also volunteered with Disabled American Veterans and the Amvets. He also serves as an officer in his Army Transportation Battalion group. Those veterans gather for a reunion every two years.