Earl Dahme celebrated 70 years of Legion membership this April, and received recognition from national headquarters.
Dahme joined the Legion in 1944, the same year he enlisted in the Navy. Four of his brothers were in the Army. One was a Marine. But Dahme knew for him, the Navy was the right outfit.
"I liked their cap, their winter cap and everything about them. Even nowadays I see a Navy (person) on TV or something — man, I stop and find out what it's about," he said.
"I guess it was just like everything else," he said. "A guy gets something in his mind and heart and whatever you call it, and away you go. If you can get in — sometimes you don’t make it, but I guess I been lucky."
He served for more than two years, and did a tour on the USS Black Hawk AD-9, a destroyer tender — a repair ship, as a seaman 1st class. He served in China, Japan, Hawaii and on the West Coast.
"I was a captain's boy on a gig, the man that's in charge of the boat around wherever he wants to go on the water. I was in charge of that gig — to drive it and lift it up onto the ship OK. That's where my big deal I felt always was," he said.
In fact, he claimed at one point the captain made a misstep while boarding, landing right in the water. Dahme, considerably smaller than the man, pulled him up and into the boat.
"I saved him. ... I kept on telling him I don’t have to ask for a medal either for it," he joked.
But he said his best memories of his time in the Navy were with two buddies — Jimmy Hernandez and Jacobsen. (He's forgotten Jacobsen's first name.)
On leave, they'd hitchhike around California. They attended beer gardens. Once they even tried to enter a Marine bar together, he said, only to have a dog sicced on them. They outran it, and most trouble.
"It was just a lot of fun," Dahme said. "That is the only time I've seen them, and since I got out of the war, I never have seen them. I never looked them up, and they never looked me up since then."
After he was discharged, he married Kathy, who passed away several years ago. He worked for the post office more than 20 years, and at a bakery for decades after. He lives with his daughter now, and said his freezer is full of coffee cakes and oatmeal cookies. He remains active in the Legion and his church.
As a Legionnaire, he's served as post commander, among other positions. He said his favorite activities he's been involved with at the Legion are baseball and the Boy Scouts.
Dahme's Legion experiences have changed during the past seven decades. He's moved around South Dakota, joining different posts, settling at American Legion Post 320 in Rapid City. But there's been one common denominator.
"I've had a lot of fun with a lot of different people," he said. "The Legion meant something to me here. ... It's just great."