By Kristina Houck
Seven decades after serving his country in World War II, Dale Nelson recently had the opportunity to visit the national memorial built in his honor.
The 87-year-old Rancho Santa Fe resident was among 80 veterans who traveled to Washington, D.C. on May 2 to visit the World War II Memorial and other war memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. The all-expense paid trip was made possible by Honor Flight San Diego, a nonprofit organization that honors America’s veterans by helping them visit their memorials on the other side of the country.
“It was emotional,” said Nelson, who has lived in the same Rancho Santa Fe house for 47 years. “It was a wonderful experience.”
Nelson grew up on a farm in Lake Mills, Iowa. He joined the military immediately after graduating from high school in 1944. He was 18 years old.
“Every kid in town could hardly wait to get in,” said Nelson, who enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps, the statutory forerunner of the U.S. Air Force. “We all wanted to fly.”
Not long after he started training, however, German forces surrendered.
“So my flying days never came,” he said.
Instead, Nelson was sent to the Aleutian Islands, where Japanese forces occupied territory. It was considered an overseas mission because Alaska did not become a state until 1959.
After serving as a private first class in the military for two years, Nelson went to the University of Minnesota, where he studied business and met his wife. The couple was married for 54 years and raised two children before Beverly died 14 years ago. His daughter has also since passed away.
Nelson worked in the banking industry and most recently worked as an investment officer for San Diego Trust Bank before retiring 15 years ago.
He currently serves as a board member for the Rancho Santa Fe Community Services District. He has previously served as president of the Rancho Santa Fe Rotary Club and the Rancho Santa Fe Garden Club. When not in the garden, he enjoys spending time with his son, four grandsons and dog, “Puppy.”
Although Nelson enjoyed every minute of his special two-day trip to the nation’s capital, his favorite moment was when he returned home May 4. Upon landing at Lindbergh Field, a crowd greeted Nelson and his fellow veterans with cheers and applause.
“I broke up then,” said Nelson with a big smile and tears in his eyes. “The whole terminal was lined with people. There was everyone from older people to little kids, the Boy Scouts and the Girl Scouts. They were shaking our hands and hugging us. I had a couple of ladies kiss me!
“It was so emotional. I haven’t cried in years, but I couldn’t help myself. Even the thought of it now gets me.”
For more information about Honor Flight San Diego, visit www.honorflightsandiego.org.