Michael Dunn: From Canadian farmer to American hero
“I’ll tell you the reason I wanted to join the Navy,” Michael Dunn, 92, said. “The reason why I joined the Navy was because I wanted to see the water.”
Dunn was born on June 5, 1927, in Moose Jaw, Canada. His parents, both Americans, moved there to raise Dunn and his sixteen siblings when his dad got a job working as a railroad conductor. Despite their family having a low income, the Dunns were inseparable.
“I was with a family filled with love,” Dunn said. “We were a happy family and none of us ever fought.”
Aside from going to school, his mom made sure there was always something for him and his siblings to do around the house.
For Dunn, life on the farm consisted of milking cows, gardening, sawing logs and occasionally chopping off a chicken’s head, only to be followed by the chase of its headless body afterwards.
“We were all doing chores everyday,” Dunn said. “That was our lives.”
However, the simple life on the farm to which Dunn was accustomed came to an abrupt end as the Americans began to join World War II in December 1941.
Dunn’s five older brothers joined the fight. One by one, they all left to join the war when he was just 13-years-old, leaving him back on the farm with just his sister Shirley.
Seeing his brothers willingly fight in the war motivated Dunn to join the cause.
“We all went in by choice. We had a lot to fight for and accepted the call of America,” Dunn said. “I just felt I had to be a part of this.”
Unfortunately for Dunn, when he tried to join at 16 the military rejected him because of his age. He waited in Chicago until he could join, sneaking in four days before turning 17.
On June 1, 1945, Dunn enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He trained at the Great Lakes Naval Station.
Once in the Navy, the farmer had to grow his sea legs as he embarked on a 28-day boat trip across the Pacific Ocean from San Francisco to the Philippines. There he’d spend his time based at a physical training (P.T.) naval base.
Surprisingly, Dunn’s greatest fear was not of the blood and gore of war, but of not being accepted by his fellow comrades.
“With my background I thought I wouldn’t fit in,” Dunn admitted sheepishly. “You become close real quick when everyone’s in it together.”
On his journey to the base, disaster struck when the ship never encountered land or other ships. The soldiers almost ran straight into a planted bomb.
“Who knows what could have happened?” Dunn said. “If it was dark, we probably wouldn’t have seen it.”
Dunn made it to the Philippines without any other close calls, and he served the rest of his time at the P.T. base working with older Philippino men rebuilding boat engines after most of the Navy ships sunk at Pearl Harbor.
The war ended about a year and a half later, and Dunn was discharged at Jackson Naval Station in 1946. At this point, his family had already moved to Florida.
His older siblings were all discharged before him. Upon arriving back, Dunn was greeted by no one.
“Nobody even knew I was back,” Dunn said casually. “Just went home and said hello to mom and that was it.”
After the war ended, his family remained silent about it, but to this day, its impact remains.
“Just being able to go in there and serve and to know my brothers served as well...It was a life changing experience,” Dunn said.
Once back, despite never finishing school past ninth grade, Dunn was able to secure a job at Maw Bell, or what most people know today as AT&T.
“All my boss knew was that I could get the job done,” Dunn joked.
Dunn soon went on to become a manager, eventually getting married and having three children.
“I would have loved to have more kids but I wasn’t in a rush to get married again,” Dunn said. “So I put everything into my job.”
Now, the retired veteran is divorced and has two remaining children, Linda and Michael.
His third child, Joseph, died in a car accident after a large truck ran over his car and crushed him. Joseph’s friend was behind the wheel of the truck, and he turned it toward Joseph’s car as a joke, only to end up losing control. Joseph had just been hired as a broadcaster. He was 20 years old.
“It was the saddest day of my life because he suffered terribly,” Dunn said, his voice cracking ever so slightly. “I have never gotten over that.”
His second son, Michael, served in the Navy Seals for 10 years, where he worked on nuclear submarines.
“Both of our services in the Navy have made us a better father and dad,” Dunn stated fondly.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, 2019, Southeast Florida Honor Flight, an operation started in 2005, flew 14 World War II veterans, 38 Korean War veterans and 27 Vietnam veterans to Arlington, Virginia to see their memorials.
Dunn was one of the honored World War II vets. It was his first time seeing the World War II Memorial.
“Oh my God, I was overwhelmed. It was incredible,” Dunn exclaimed.
"The flight arrived back at Palm Beach International Airport that night to a homecoming crowd like none Dunn had ever seen. Hundreds of people lined the concourse to give the honored vets the welcome home they never received.
“It was stunning. I could hardly believe it,” Dunn recalled in awe. “Each person here...it was like the war had just ended.”
Dunn’s family may not have come from the most prominent background, but they left a lasting impact on history with their service to their country.
“I would have never changed my lifestyle,” Dunn said. “If I had to go back and be the son of a millionaire, I would not have been a happy person.”
By Morgan Therrien