Dale Beihoffer - Living on LSTs

In a climate that was “very positive about the military,” Dale Beihoffer responded to the U.S. call for troops. He said he wasn’t keen on being drafted into the Army so three months after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, Beihoffer enlisted in the U.S. Navy in March 1942.

After he graduated from Gaylord High School in 1938, he helped on the family farm as well as held a job in a Gaylord grocery store.

But conflict was brewing in the world as Adolf Hitler was taking over countries in Europe and Japan was aiming to dominate Asia and the Pacific. Although the United Kingdom and France were already enmeshed in the conflict with Germany, the U.S. didn’t enter the fray until the Japanese air attack on the naval base in Pearl Harbor.

OFF TO SEA

Three months at the Great Lakes Naval Base was followed by six months in Detroit attached to Ford plants where he studied to be a machinist and also took diesel engine training.

Beihoffer waited in San Diego for a new ship, just built in Portland, Oregon. It was LST 472. LSTs, or landing ship tanks, transported tanks, vehicles, cargo and troops to areas where needed.

“We were loaded with mines headed for a mine depot at Guadalcanal, an island that had been secured by the Allies,” said Beihoffer.

His assignment was taking care of the diesel engines in the LST. There were some scary moments when Japanese planes dropped bombs nearby. In fact, while Beihoffer was home for a 30-day leave, LST 472 was destroyed by a Japanese bomb.

It was four to five months before Beihoffer was reassigned to the engine room aboard another LST. It waited at Leyte in the Philippines to lead a flotilla of ships that never came, Beihoffer said. He received orders to go to Japan.

“That’s when the bombs were dropped (on Japan) and the war ended,” he said.

His thoughts about World War II: “We didn’t have a lot of choice. We had to do it. We couldn’t let them take over the whole world.”

POST-WAR YEARS

After the war ended, Beihoffer said he worked on diesel engines on cargo ships  in the Norfolk, Virginia, area until his discharge in 1948.

He was back in Gaylord working as a machinist in a machine shop and taking night school classes. That fall he  entered the University of Minnesota and earned a five-year BS degree in applied mathematics.

Beihoffer had a 30-year career with Northern Pump naval ordinance plant, which changed ownership and names through those years. He was  a supervisor the last 10 years he was employed there.

“I did calculations on missile launches,” he said. “We reduced the weight (of the missiles) by about half.”

Beihoffer was married to Kathryn “Kay” Hoppert, a nurse, in 1958. They had two daughters (and now six grandchildren). After he retired in 1984, he and Kay lived in Backus for four years, but wanted to live a little closer to the Twin Cities. They moved to Farm Island Lake where they stayed until Kay died in 2009.  Dale moved to Blackrock Terrace where he lived for six years. He is now a resident at River’s Edge in Aitkin.

During the years in the Aitkin area, Beihoffer and his wife volunteered at Rippleside Elementary and were involved in various outreach programs at First Lutheran Church.

At age 100, Beihoffer said he exercises and reads but misses cribbage games at his church since COVID-19 arrived. He said his secret to living to 100 is green salads, vegetables and fruit.

His thoughts on U.S. participation in Middle East conflicts: “I don’t think we should be there but I don’t know who should be. (The U.S.) can’t police the whole world. We are losing too many good young people.”

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