Vice President Gerald Ford awards posthumous Medal of Honor to Larry Dahl on August 8, 1974.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 3/17/2015
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 11039

On August 8, 1974, hours before assuming the presidency upon the resignation of Richard Nixon (1913-1994), Vice President Gerald Ford (1913-2006) awards the Medal of Honor to Larry Dahl (1949-1971) of Seattle and six others. Dahl had joined the army in 1969 and requested an assignment to Vietnam. He worked in a transportation motor pool and volunteered to serve on a gun truck nicknamed "Brutus." On February 23, 1971, Dahl was serving as a machine-gunner on Brutus when it was called to assist a convoy that had been ambushed. At the ambush location a powerful force attacked the arriving gun trucks. As the battle subsided and Brutus returned to convoy duty, a grenade landed in the truck. Specialist Fourth Class Dahl yelled a warning to his comrades and threw himself on the grenade. He gave his life to save the other crewmembers.

Combat Duty

Larry G. Dahl was born in Oregon City, Oregon. He attended grade school in Oregon City. Then the family moved to Seattle where Larry attended Franklin High School and was on the track team. While at Franklin he met and married his wife, Michelle. After high school Dahl worked at Sea-Tac International Airport and then at Boeing. On September 5, 1969, he enlisted in the army. He had basic training at Fort Lewis followed by automotive training as a heavy-vehicle driver at Fort Benning in Georgia.

Dahl requested combat duty in Vietnam three times and finally received orders for combat duty there. He flew to Vietnam in June 1970, and eventually became a Specialist Fourth Class in the 359th Transportation Company, 27th Transportation Battalion, 8th Transportation Group. In the fall of 1970 Dahl was working in the transportation motor pool and became friends with the four-man crew on a gun truck they had named Brutus. He and several others helped clean and do maintenance on Brutus when it returned from convoy duties. The Brutus crew said that if anything happened to them the volunteers who helped clean and work on Brutus should take over. On November 21, 1970, Brutus was hit by rocket fire, killing one and wounding one. The gun truck was turned over to Specialist Dahl and his friends. They repaired it and gave it a new paint job.

On February 23, 1971, Specialist Fourth Class Dahl was serving as a machine-gunner on Brutus near An Khe, Binh Dinh Province, Vietnam. Dahl and his gun truck were sent with two other gun trucks to assist in the defense of a convoy that had been ambushed by a powerful force. The gun trucks arrived at the ambush site and engaged the attackers with a heavy volume of counter fire. There was an intense battle. As the battle subsided and Brutus moved to return to convoy duty a grenade landed in the cab. Dahl called out a warning to his comrades and threw himself on the grenade, saving the rest of the crew.

Honors

On August 8, 1974, Larry Dahl received the Medal of Honor for his heroic sacrifice. Vice President Gerald Ford presented the Medal to to his widow, Michelle Dahl. Their 6-year-old son Michael, and Dahl's mother, two brothers, and two sisters were also present for the award. In one of his last acts as vice president, Ford presented a total of seven Medals of Honor at the ceremony, which was held at the Blair House across the street from the White House. Later that day President Nixon, facing impeachment in the Watergate scandal, announced his resignation, and Gerald Ford became president the next morning.

Larry G. Dahl is buried in the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. In January 1975 a headquarters building at Fort Eustis, Virginia, was named in his honor. In October 1998 a United States Navy cargo ship carrying his name was launched. The USNS Dahl was sponsored by his widow Michelle Dahl Steanson, who christened the ship. Dahl's son Sergeant Michael Dahl was present at the launching. Larry Dahl is one of only four soldiers from the Transportation Corps to receive the Medal of Honor. The Transportation Corps is generally not on the front line, but in Vietnam the gun trucks often engaged in battle.


Sources: Donald K. and Helen L. Ross, Washington State Men of Valor (Burley, Washington: Coffee Break Press, 1980); Richard G. Davis, The U.S. Army and Irregular Warfare, 1775-2007 (Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 2008); Frank Hewlett, "Medal of Honor Given to Seattleite's Widow," The Seattle Times, August 8, 1974, p. D-3; "Ford Gave Medal to Widow," Ibid., August 9, 1974, p. B-4; "Soldier Killed in Vietnam to Be Honored," Ibid., January 12, 1975, p. D-4.

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