WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — A resident of Presbyterian Manor in Wichita Falls who served in the United States Navy during World War 2 celebrated his 100th birthday on Wednesday.
Dale Nelsen was born on December 21, 1922. He was just a teenager when he told his father about his desire to enlist in the United States Navy.
“I probably knew when I was 15, 14 years old that I was going to be in the Navy,” Nelsen said. “I loved to see those ships, I loved the water.”
Soon after Nelsen became a sailor, he was deployed overseas to fight tyranny in the Second World War. During his three years deployed, Nelsen said he participated in several major battles.
“[I] took part in North Africa, Cicily, Italy, then went to Burma, and then Normandy,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen said he and his fellow shipmates played a key role in transporting supplies and personnel during the war effort.
“We went to Calcutta then loaded up British troops and heavy equipment then took it up a river in Burma behind the Japanese lines and emptied them out there,” Nelsen said.
Nelsen said of the three years he spent fighting in World War 2, one of his most proud moments happened when a critically wounded soldier was onboard his ship. The soldier needed medical aid to save his life, but those who outranked Nelsen refused to stop the ship, meaning the soldier would likely die.
Nelsen knew what he had to do, so he didn’t give up.
“Finally [I] talked to the engineering officer, who had been an enlisted man, who retired, called back,” Nelsen said. “[I] told him about it, and he pumped the drinking water off the ship that night. We had to go in, and we got him off, and he lived.”
Following the war, Nelsen remained in the Navy, either on active duty or as a reserve, for 40 years. His earliest memories during the war weren’t always the happiest.
“Well, I don’t know what to tell you except that it was, some of it, pretty tough stuff,” Nelsen said. “We were bombed every night for close to two weeks. I’m glad I could have been there, but I don’t want to go there again.”
Being a Navy sailor during the deadliest war the world has ever seen isn’t for the faint of heart, but Nelsen said he’d still be on a ship if he could be.
“Nobody wants to be in a war, to get shot at or bombed,” Nelsen said. “But I loved the Navy and I still do.”
And the way Nelsen sees it, his time overseas is just the beginning of his life’s story.
“Well I always figured I had three careers,” Nelsen said. “I worked for Abbott Laboratories for 28 years, the Navy for 40 years and I did about 20, 21 years of volunteer work.”
Part of that work includes connecting veterans to the Honor Flight, something Nelsen said everyone who served needs to be a part of.
“I’ve searched for veterans to send on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C,” Nelsen said. “They’re an absolutely fabulous people, and anybody that’s been in World War 2 or Korea or Vietnam that hasn’t gone, they ought to get ahold of me, and I’ll get them there.”
Nelsen also spent 57 years married to his wife with whom he had two daughters. All three of them have sadly passed away, but Nelsen can’t help but feel blessed like something or someone was watching over him.
“I think the Good Lord has been over me my entire life,” Nelsen said. “I’ve made good decisions and a few bad ones, or a few that weren’t the right ones but something had to tell me to go this direction instead of that direction and I’m convinced it had to be the Good Lord that did it.”
For those who may still be trying to figure their life out, Nelsen has a bit of advice.
“You’re responsible for yourself,” Nelsen said. “Nobody else is gonna help you, you’re responsible for yourself. And if you don’t take that responsibility, it’s your own fault.”
Nelsen said that’s the summary of his favorite poem, The Man In The Glass by Dale Wimbrow. He said it’s about taking a good hard look in the mirror.
“I never did memorize it, but I carried it in my briefcase for 25 years,” Nelsen said. “But if you can look at that man in the glass and be pleased with what you’re doing, you’re doing alright. If you’re not that pleased, then correct yourself.”
It’s not always going to be perfect, or right, or good, but Nelsen said as long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be content, you’re going to be alright.
“There were times I’d look in the glass not too happy with what the day brought,” Nelsen said. “Then there are the days that you look in there and smile and say, yeah, I did alright today.”