Coon Rapids man recalls World War II experiences

Jim Dingle doesn’t talk much about his experiences as a U.S. Army infantryman in World War II.

Jim Dingle
Jim Dingle

But Dingle, a Coon Rapids resident who is now 91 and a retired math and science teacher at Elk River High School, did sit down at the Coon Rapids American Legion on Veterans Day and speak about his time serving with the U.S. Army 11th Armored Division in Europe in late 1944 and 1945.

In fact, Dingle, who was born Sept. 9, 1922 in Conneaut Lake, Pa., and joined the Army Nov. 2, 1942 had his first taste of battle in the Battle of the Bulge.

Initially, Dingle and his fellow armored division members were sent to England and based near Bath in the southwest part of the country, but Dec. 16, 1944 they traveled across the English Channel and were then transported to the front lines in the Ardennes Forest near New Chateau in Belgium.

The Battle of the Bulge from mid-December 1944 to early January 1945, was a major German offensive campaign that ultimately failed launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.

“It was messy, cold and freezing,” Dingle said.

He was at the front for six weeks before he suffered frost bite to his feet and was taken to a hospital for treatment about 75 miles away, he said.

According to Dingle, he was released because the hospital was expecting a lot of wounded soldiers, but when he offered to stick around and help, his offer was declined.

Six weeks later he was back at the front, but by then the Germans had been pushed back to the Siegfried Line and the 11th Armored Division crossed the River Rhine into Germany from Belgium at Worms as the Germans retreated, Dingle said.

Then the 11th Armored Division was ordered south through Germany to Austria near the town of Linz, where the troops were based until the Germany surrender and then for a few months after until they were shipped home, arriving in New York City Harbor Dec. 31, 1945, he said.

Dingle recalls three occasions when he was involved in “real close combat” with the Germans.

“But I only got two scratches and you can’t find them now,” Dingle said.

However, he did come down with bronchiectasis, a disease of the lungs, which required two lung operations, one in 1958 and the other in 1959, he said.

“That was the result of getting damp, cold and slopping around in water in ditches,” Dingle said.

His remembrances of the war tend to be “things that were funny” rather than his experiences on the battlefield, according to Dingle, who was a corporal in the 11th Armored Division.

He has some dreams about people in the war, more than what happened, but no nightmares, Dingle said.

“But I don’t like to talk about it much,” he said.

The same was true of Dave Livingston’s father, who was a paratrooper in the Pacific during World War II.

Livingston, a veteran himself who has a son now serving in Afghanistan, was among other veterans that stopped by the Legion on Veterans Day.

Dingle and his father were a lot alike, according to Livingston.

Like many who fought in World War II, they came from little towns in the middle of nowhere, but knew what they had to do and never even thought about it, he said.

“We can never repay that generation,” Livingston said. “They fought for our freedom.”

On his discharge in early 1946, Dingle returned to his home in Pennsylvania and went to work as stock clerk in the tool room of a company for 18 months, then got a job in the machine shop of a manufacturing business in Franklin, Pa.

But after a year, Dingle was laid off and worked for the state of Pennsylvania Highway Department over the summer before deciding to go to college and get a degree, he said.

Dingle graduated from Grove City College, Pa., with a bachelor’s degree in math and science and went on to earn a master’s degree in science from the University of Indiana.

His first teaching job was at a country school in Waveland, Ind., where he taught seventh- through 12th-grade math.

In 1958 Dingle came to Minnesota and Elk River, where he taught math and physics at the high school for 29 years before retiring in 1987.

He has been an American Legion member for 50 years, including the Elk River post and now the Coon Rapids post, where he has served as chaplain.

Dingle likes being a Legion member “because the organization looks after veterans and helps out where it can,” he said.

And coming to the Legion on Veterans Day is a chance to “get together with people I have not seen for some time,” Dingle said.

Dingle has two daughters, Carol Rushford of Becker and Marcia Hughes, who lives near Garrison, three grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

While he still feels fit enough to get around, Dingle said he suffers from congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“Other than that, I feel pretty good,” he said.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]