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Voyageur's Best Features of 2003

Laverne Malinen

‘Gold Star’ mother
 
A son leaves a legacy for his...
 
by John Grones  |  November 11, 2003
 

The Service Banner program, which was instituted during World War I and World War II, was reactivated by the National American Legion. Since Service Banners were not used during the Vietnam War, the area American Legion, Unit 23 Auxilliary, presented a Gold Star Banner to Laverne Malinen on Mon., Nov. 3, at their regular meeting. Laverne is the mother of Dale E. Wayrynen, a local hero who sacrificed his life on May 18, 1967, to save the lives of his friends and comrades.

It has been 36 years since that fateful day and Laverne still remembers that Sat. evening, when an unfamiliar station wagon pulled into the driveway. “An officer from the Duluth Air Base came to tell us about it,” Laverne recalled, “and as soon as I saw the car drive in, I knew something was wrong.”

At first, Laverne and her late husband, Gene, didn’t know the details of what had taken place, overseas in the jungle, that night. It wasn’t until three days later, that they received a telegram explaining his act of bravery and self sacrifice. “It is very hard to lose a child,” said Laverne. Many years have passed, and she doesn’t recall every detail of the incident, but there is a monument located at the McGregor rest area with the details of that combat operation. It happened on the evening of May 18, 1967, near Duc Pho, Quang Ngai Province, Republic of Vietnam. Engraved on a large stone, along with his picture, is the following:

Specialist Wayrynen’s platoon was assisting in the night evacuation of the wounded from an earlier enemy contact, when the lead man of the unit met face-to-face with a Viet Cong soldier. The Americans swept the area with automatic weapons fire, from a strongly built bunker close to the trail, and threw hand grenades from another nearby, fortified position. Almost immediately, the lead man was wounded and knocked off his feet.

Specialist Wayrynen, the second man in the formation, leaped beyond his fallen comrade to kill another enemy soldier, who appeared on the trail, and he dragged his injured companion back to where the point squad had taken cover.

Suddenly, a live enemy grenade landed in the center of the tightly grouped men. Specialist Wayrynen, quickly assessing the danger to the entire squad as well as to his platoon leader, who was nearby, shouted a warning, pushed one soldier out of the way, and threw himself on the grenade at the moment it exploded. He was mortally wounded.

His deep and abiding concern for his fellow soldiers was significantly reflected in his supreme and courageous act that preserved the lives of his comrades. Specialist Wayrynen’s heroic actions are in keeping with the highest traditions of the service, and they reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Army.

This sacrifice, made by Dale for his comrades and his country, are reflected in the eyes of his mother, Laverne. She beams with confidence and pride, yet, a sense of sadness for a mother who has lost her child. She remains strong, and was happy to receive the banner, to be displayed in her window.

Things didn’t get any easier for Laverne in 1967 shortly after Dale died, another son, David, was headed for the same war. “It wasn’t easy to send a second son there,” she said. “We tried to see if we couldn’t get them to leave him in the states, but there was nothing they could do.” Having had a short time to grieve over her oldest son, Laverne was now going through waiting, wondering, and praying again, but she would get good news.

“During the time that David was over there, they passed a ruling that if you have lost a child in action, they couldn’t send any of your other children into combat. They went and pulled David back right away. So, he got to come home after 10 months.”

Quite a bit of time has passed since the Vietnam War, and it has only been recently that Laverne has met five of the men that Dale saved that night. “It took 30 years,” Laverne exclaimed. “That’s been wonderful.” It was a letter from Donald Singleton, in Florida, that got the ball rolling. Donald had been trying to find Dale’s family since 1980. He came across a veteran newsletter, looking for guys from Minnesota. He made a phone call, and that was how he found Laverne.

It turned out that Laverne’s summer residence in Lake Worth, Florida, was just a few minutes from Donald’s home in West Palm Beach. He recalled the day Laverne decided to pay him a visit. “At first, I didn’t know what I was going to say. I asked my wife to leave that day, because I didn’t want her to see me go through some things.” As it turned out it was a great meeting. Donald recognized what a great lady Laverne was.

All this time, Donald wasn’t aware Dale had earned the Congressional Medal of Honor. As for May 18, Donald says he tries to forget as much about the war as possible, but he was actually wounded by the grenade that killed Dale. He recalls being evacuated in a helicopter with several other soldiers who didn’t make it. “I was the only live guy on the chopper that day,” he said.
Donald did extend his service another 10 months, but he didn’t return to the jungle. He now lives in Richmond Hill, Georgia, where Laverne has since visited a second time. “I still call her every now-and-then...usually I call her around May, or Veterans Day.” Donald has also been instrumental in finding some of the other men in the platoon.

About four years ago, Laverne met four other members of Dale’s squad at the 101st Airborne Division reunion. “I think what happened those first few years is, those guys were just trying to live,” she reasoned. None-the-less, Laverne just beams at the opportunity to meet and listen to the appreciation Dale’s comrades have for him.

Now, more recently, Laverne has received a correspondence from the man who was teamed with Dale that night. Bill Gunter, who now resides in Mission Viejo, Cal., was the point man who was shot in the attack that day, and survived.

Like Donald, Bill also had difficulty locating the Wayrynen family. “I went to the ‘WALL’ several times,” said Bill, “and I could never find his name.” Bill’s frustration stemmed from three major problems. First, he didn’t know the spelling of Wayrynen; second, he only knew Dale was from the midwest; and third, he was under the impression Dale died on May 18. The actual time of death was May 19 as stated in the casualty report. According to Bill, the Lieutenant attended to his wounds and Dale died later that night.

Bill and Dale had been teamed up to walk point together and, according to Bill (who was 19 years old at the time), Dale was always right behind him. Bill shared that they did not get much time to get to know each other. “In the bush, there wasn’t a lot of time for discussion,” he said. “We had to exercise noise discipline.”
Bill’s recollection of that night is very vivid, and he shared some of the events that lead up to Dale’s heroic efforts. “When we were about 10 kilometers from our destination, we finished walking point and went to the rear. Then we got a call that the point man that had replaced us had been wounded, so Dale and I were called back to the point. We sprinted on a dead run discharging our weapons as we were running.”

The mission was to evacuate wounded men that had been ambushed earlier in the evening. Upon arriving at their destination the platoon of men began making stretchers out of ponchos and small trees. Bill continued, “Dale and I were waiting for evacuation and, while we were waiting, a bolt of lightning in the distance revealed the enemy. I was face-to-face with him. I could have reached out and touched the guy. We opened fire as more came up the trail and I was shot in the leg.”

“The rest of the story is totally accurate,” he said referring to the engraving on the McGregor Rest Area monument. “I didn’t see Dale jump on the grenade, because I was on the ground, turned the other way, attempting to return fire. I remember him landing on my legs. I was wounded in both legs by the granade and they were pretty chewed up, but I made a full recovery and continued in the Army for 21 years. I attribute that to Dale!”

Bill didn’t have a lot of time to talk. He was on his way to the Marine Ball, because he has several friends in the Marines. Bill concluded by saying, “It was an honor to have known the man.”

Gold Star mother, Laverne Malinen, has reason to be proud. Her son, Dale, is now the most recognized name in the McGregor area. A memorial recognizing his actions is engraved on a stone at the McGregor Rest Area; the McGregor High School gymnasium is named after him; the American Legion, Post 23, is named after him, a stretch of Hwy. 210, across Aitkin County, has been named after him; and a recreation center at Fort Campell, Kentucky (home of the 101st Airborne Division) is named in his honor.

It is because of people like Dale, that we can be thankful that we live in the greatest country in the world – the United States of America.

For more on Dale, and recent tributes, go to www.thevirtualwall.org.

This article first appeared in the November 11, 2003 issue of the Voyageur Press.