Clackamas County's only Medal of Honor recipient, and just one of 13 from Oregon in U.S. history, is receiving another honor in the form of a memorial highway.
A dedication ceremony for Larry Gilbert Dahl's Fallen Hero Memorial Highway sign will take place at 2 p.m., Dec. 8, in the auditorium of the Clackamas County Development Services Building, 150 Beavercreek Road, in Oregon City. The sign will be installed on Highway 99E (McLoughlin Boulevard) at milepost 14, near the "Welcome to Oregon City" sign at the southern entrance to town in Canemah.
Army Specialist Larry Dahl threw himself on a grenade that landed in a gun truck during combat in Vietnam in 1971. Dahl's action cost him his life, but saved his three crewmates and earned him the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military award.
Steve Bates, chair of the Committee on Memorials & Remembrance, in affiliation with the Vietnam Veterans of America, worked with the state legislature and the Oregon Department of Transportation and to dedicate a memorial highway for Dahl. Bates credited fellow Clackamas County resident Jim Riggle with approaching the committee about two years ago asking why there was not a Fallen Hero Memorial Highway for Dahl. Riggle helped edit the document for the Oregon Legislature to approve, and he paid the standard fee is $600 charged by ODOT to cover the cost of the Memorial Highway sign.
Dahl's memorial sign is the latest effort to pay homage to this Oregon City hometown hero. County Chair Tootie Smith, Oregon City Police Chief Jim Band, former Oregon City Mayor Doug Neeley and VFW post commander DJ Ruger led efforts in 2016 to relocate the memorial that had been in the back of a parking lot in the Museum of the Oregon Territory since 1988. In November 2016, Dahl's memorial was rededicated in the Circle of Honor at the Red Soils Complex of Clackamas County government.
To qualify Dahl to be honored with a Memorial Highway sign during the 2021 session of the Oregon Legislature, State Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, and Rep. Mark Meek, D-Gladstone, co-sponsored the resolution recognizing Dahl for his service, bravery and selfless devotion to his comrades. After the bill unanimously passed the House of Representatives, State Sen. Bill Kennemer, R-Canby, carried it to the Senate floor where it also passed unanimously.
Bates, the committee chair, said the highway said is an appropriate honor for Dahl.
"More people need to be aware of his sacrifice in Vietnam," Bates said. "He gave his life for his comrades."
Dahl was born June 10, 1949, in Oregon City, where he attended elementary school. Enlisting in the Army in 1969, he trained at Fort Lewis, Washington, became a heavy-truck driver and mechanic — and after volunteering three times, finally ended up in Vietnam.
Assigned to the 359th Transportation Company, he and three others were the backup crew for a gun truck that escorted fuel and supply convoys across South Vietnam's Central Highlands to U.S bases.
The crew was called into action on Feb. 23, 1971, when Dahl manned one of the .50-caliber machine guns on the armor-plated truck nicknamed "Brutus."
The convoy was caught in an ambush at An Khe Pass, and after things seemingly settled down, the truck was proceeding when enemy soldiers attacked it. Footage of the attack shows the yellow flash of the grenade that Dahl smothered with his body to protect his fellow soldiers.
Then-Vice President Gerald Ford presented the Medal of Honor on Aug. 8, 1974, only hours before Richard Nixon announced he would resign the presidency and Ford became president.
The United States had more than 58,000 military deaths in the Vietnam War, and thousands more served during what retired Maj. Gen. Tom Mattson described as "one of the most painful chapters in our history, most particularly how we treated our troops."
Mattson counts Vietnam War service in his 32 years in the Army.
Dahl is buried at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. Among his other honors is a place in the Oregon Military Museum, which is at Camp Withycombe in Clackamas.
The Dec. 8 sign dedication ceremony will include participation by Kennemer, Meek and Steve Carr, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America's local chapter. All of the Clackamas County VFW and American Legion posts will also be represented. The ceremony is open to the public.
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