My Father, My Hero

veteran’s gallantry at a distant time in a distant war still resonates with his son

Timothy Dolan

Marine Pfc. David Dola (back), shown during his service in Vietnam, won the Silver Star for gallantry in combat.
Marine Pfc. David Dola (back), shown during his service in Vietnam, won the Silver Star for gallantry in combat.

As we plan our Veteran’s Day ceremony at Menomonie Middle School, I am almost giddy having just confirmed with my father, David Dolan – former Marine and Vietnam veteran – that he will be the keynote speaker. As my father has entered retirement, he has become much more open about his military service, wearing Marine Corps hats or Vietnam veteran shirts. When I was younger, this was not the case. My brother and I used to wear his old uniform, pinning the sergeant stripes onto his old hat and playing war. He didn’t seem to have any attachment to the items.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become much more intrigued by this past of my father’s. Each morning I’ve been turning on my Audible app and listening to Ken Burns’ The Vietnam War in a feeble attempt to understand what my father went through during those harrowing years as a young man, storming the jungles of a foreign land.  

Every now and again I find myself wandering the aisles of Walgreens looking for shoe polish. It isn’t necessarily that I enjoy shining my shoes, but I feel compelled, as if by nostalgia to do so. Growing up, my father had this canvas sack where he kept his brushes, rags, and polish. His burgundy wingtips would gleam after he was done. This was a direct result of his years spent in the Marines.

I’ve heard his story many times now, but it never loses its impact on me. As a fire team leader with the First Platoon, Company G, Second Battalion, Twenty-Sixth Marines, Third Marine Division, he and others were making their way through the jungle in the darkness on Nov. 17, 1966, when they began taking enemy fire. My dad, a private first-class at the time, began firing into the jungle, unsure of where the enemy was. The point man and platoon commander were eventually hit, bringing the platoon to a halt. Disregarding his own safety, my father ran up to check on the two men, firing bursts into the darkness. He succeeded in reaching the men, but was hit by enemy fire himself. He was finally airlifted out of danger and sent to a military hospital where he was treated. My father was awarded both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart for his gallantry.

Every now and again I find myself wandering the aisles of Walgreens looking for shoe polish. It isn’t necessarily that I enjoy shining my shoes, but I feel compelled, as if by nostalgia to do so. Growing up, my father had this canvas sack where he kept his brushes, rags, and polish. His burgundy wingtips would gleam after he was done. This was a direct result of his years spent in the Marines. Looking in his dresser, you will find every undershirt he owns neatly folded in tight stacks, a stark contrast to my balled up mess at home.  

After fighting in Vietnam and spending many months in recovery from his gunshot wounds, my father went on to divinity school, finally making his way back to southeast Asia, becoming a church-planter in Taiwan. He wound spending his career there, becoming fluent in Mandarin Chinese. I find it truly remarkable that my father chose to go back to southeast Asia, living among rice paddies, congested cities, and thick jungles much like the ones in Vietnam. I never cease to be astounded by the loyalty, faithfulness, humility, and kindness that I see in this man who not only is my father but my hero as well.

Dolan teaches language arts at Menomonie Middle School.


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