Robert C. Dunn’s memories about his more than two-year service in World War II are vague, limited and intense.
The corporal in the 38th Air Engineering Squadron of the 13th Army Air Force recalls the five Islands where he worked fixing planes. The day he watched two enemy aircraft sink after American planes shot them down. Building foxholes in his free time after his bunk took in enemy fire. And D-Day.
“It was great, it was a joy,” Dunn said of D-Day, the day he knew he would make it home to America.
The rest of his time there has been lost in a memory that has begun to fail him.
But when Dunn’s son-in-law Dave Tanner offered him a framed memorabilia of World War II medals, photos and patches on Monday afternoon, Dunn’s memory seemed to spark, if just a little.
He recalled a 1945 picture of himself on Middelburg Island, where he worked repairing American aircraft, including P-38 fighters. The island, just a small dot on a map, was just big enough for an aircraft runway.
He also recalled a marksmanship award he earned during basic training at Camp Roberts in California.
“His generation was truly the greatest,” said Tanner, a Vietnam veteran. “They went to fight (in a war) not knowing when they would return.”
“They gave it all. It was all or none. They stayed until it was finished. I didn’t. We are not doing it now in Iraq. These guys stayed until it was finished. It makes a difference.”
When Dunn’s bunk on Pallawan Island received fire from enemy aircraft, he and the rest of his squadron decided that they may want to build foxholes in the event of another attack.
But word shortly got out that king cobras had been found in some of the old fox holes in the past, making the squadron a bit wary of the idea.
Dunn traveled with 4,500 army personnel in a boat to fight in World War II. Dunn was one of eight designated to work on planes instead of fighting on the ground.
Dunn grew up in Roby, Texas, and moved to Portales during high school. He worked at Davis Pump and a local milk processing plant for brief stints before joining the service.
Following World War II, Dunn married his first wife, Maurine Dunn, two months after his return home. He spent some time mining in Arizona and at one point operated a hotel in Santa Rosa. Dunn then moved back to Portales, where he raised a daughter and son and worked 31 years for the New Mexico State Employment Services. In 1965 his first wife passed away, and Dunn married Sue Dunn in 1967. They are still together.
Dunn said he has no plans for Veterans Day, but like Monday and many days prior, he plans of flying his American flag on the porch of his home on W.18th St. in southeast Portales.
“We’re proud to be Americans,” he said.