Bob Dingeman: Hawaii, Japan, Korea
By John Gregory
This is the second part of a three-part series about the military career of Bob Dingeman.
Bob Dingeman was born in 1922 on the Philippine Islands where his father was assigned to the Coast Artillery. Dingeman’s father, Ray Dingeman, was an Army captain commanding the island fortress called Fort Drum, known as “the concrete battleship,” and having two battleship turrets mounted on its topside. The fort was part of the emplacements guarding Manila Bay.
After moving back to the U.S., Bob Dingeman competed for an appointment to West Point and even though he scored the highest, his request was rejected. He attended Park College, a Presbyterian college in Parkville, Missouri, just outside Kansas City. Later, he began attending the University of Hawaii, joining the school’s ROTC program. As fate would have it, Dingeman was present when Japanese bombers and fighters attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He grabbed an old Springfield rifle and began firing at the attacking planes.
“One plane was shot down fairly close. I shot at it. Whether I hit it is problematical. The end result: it crashed,” he said.
Dingeman declined to speak more about that tragic day.
“I won’t dwell on the things I did because they bring up bad memories,” he said.
After the attack, Dingeman was brought into the Hawaii Territorial Guard. He was a first sergeant and became the personal guard of Hawaii Gov. Poindexter.
“We established a security perimeter around Iolani Palace, the same one you see in ‘Hawaii Five-o,’” Dingeman said.
Not long afterward, he was evacuated and sailed back to the United States on an old double deck China clipper. His family then settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Meanwhile, his father was serving on the staff of Admiral Chester Nimitz as a liaison officer.
“Admiral Nimitz was a really wonderful gentleman,” Dingeman explained. “What he did when he heard I had been an enlisted man and I had competed (for an appointment to West Point), and scored the highest … He sent a message to Sen. Clyde Herring of Iowa and instantly my appointment to West Point came through.”
Dingeman and his family had lived in Iowa previously.
To get an appointment to West Point was one thing, but all candidates selected had to make a $300 deposit to pay for items such as uniforms.
“I didn’t have any money,” Dingeman said. “My father was still in Hawaii because that’s where he was stationed.”
So, Dingeman worked for Haskelite Manufacturing Corporation, the company that made panels for Navy PT boats in WWII. He worked there long enough to save $300 for West Point.
West Point was a very good experience, Dingeman said.
“I think the thing that impressed me most about West Point was the very high sense of duty, honor, country,” he stated.
Dingeman met his future wife, Gaye, in Hawaii in 1939. She was attending school in Detroit while Dingeman was at West Point. She took a train to visit him a couple of times at West Point, and the couple got married the day after Dingeman graduated.
After their honeymoon, they went to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, where Dingeman took the basic artillery course. It wasn’t long before he was shipped overseas on an oceanliner, headed for the planned invasion of Japan. He said the ship was loaded with 900 second lieutenants, such as himself.
Dingeman recalled that the Army predicted all the second lieutenants would be killed by the end of the second day of the invasion.
“That’s not a very happy thought. … So, needless to say, when the atomic bomb was dropped, my life was saved,” Dingeman said, referring to the fact that the use of atomic bombs by the U.S. forced the Japanese to surrender, and a massive invasion became unnecessary.
Dingeman soon became part of the U.S. occupation force in Japan, and was assigned to the 97th Infantry Division which was to be inactivated. He became the battalion S2 intelligence officer as a second lieutenant. Working with the Japanese police was among his responsibilities.
Dingeman was then assigned to 9th Corps headquarters in Sendai, Japan.
“When I arrived at the headquarters, they said, ‘You’re going to be assigned as the assistant G2.’ … I was just a second lieutenant,” he said. “I became very well-known within the intelligence community very young.”
Things looked bad at first. The office where he was assigned was so packed that there was no place for him to sit when he arrived. But, all the extra officers were gone three weeks later, Dingeman said. The office then consisted of one full colonel, one lieutenant colonel, one major, and Dingeman, a second lieutenant.
“And guess who did all the work,” Dingeman said.
“I became the chief of operations,” he explained. “I prepared all the intelligence estimates and I handled the clandestine money, the CIA money for bribing spies.”
This assignment lasted two years. Meanwhile, Gaye moved to Japan with their young son. The family lived in a Japanese building with traditional sliding paper doors, Dingeman recalled.
“Our son learned it made a very interesting sound when he stuck his finger through the paper doors,” he said. “The poor maid was utterly devastated.”
On the other hand, their Japanese maid loved taking their son out in their carriage for walks because he had blond hair and blue eyes. It was quite a sight in that culture at the time. It was even more of a spectacle when the family went for a walk with their son and Dingeman pushed the carriage. A man pushing a baby carriage was also an unusual sight in Japan in those days.
After the assignment in Japan came to an end, the Army found it was highly unusual for a second lieutenant out of West Point to be assigned to a general staff, even though Dingeman had already served on a general staff for two years by then. Nevertheless, the Army decided he had to go back to troop duty, and he was assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado, where he became the executive officer of an artillery battery and underwent training with mountain troops.
“I took mountain training and became the lead climber. I also got ski training and I led the ski troops,” Dingeman said.
During his time at Fort Carson, there was a tremendous snowfall and some civilians in the plains area were devastated. Dingeman was involved in a rescue mission utilizing snowmobiles and snow tractors. The mission was named Operation Snowbound.
“I led a group of maybe 40 some men. … We rescued people, delivered food and so forth, working out of Miles City, Montana,” Dingeman explained, adding that he received a commendation for his efforts. “The most important thing is, I received the thanks of all the people.”
Not long after the Korean War broke out, Dingeman was ordered to take his artillery battery to the Korean Peninsula for action. They were assigned to the 8th Field Artillery.
“We became famous in the Korean War as ‘Automatic Baker,’” he said. “You call, we shoot.”
Dingeman was very close to his men and is very proud of the fact that his unit earned two Presidential Unit Citations for their actions in Korea.
Dingeman mentioned that his unit teamed up with John “Iron Mike” Michaelis, a well-respected WWII hero and commander of the 27th Infantry Regiment in Korea, the “Wolfhounds.” Dingeman said Iron Mike formed a very good unit. While Iron Mike’s unit was called the Wolfhounds, Dingeman called his artillery unit “the Wolfhounds’ Bark.” He said they became a fire team in Korea, going to the toughest battles.
“Whenever things got tough, we were thrown in over and over,” Dingeman said proudly.
Beyond telling about his Soldier’s Medal, Dingeman didn’t mention any of the other medals he received for his service during the Korean War, but there were several. Here are the official accounts describing actions during the Korean War that earned Dingeman just two of these medals:
“… for gallantry in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 8th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, in Korea. During the early morning hours of 27 November 1950, Captain Dingeman’s Battery was alerted for an imminent hostile attack. Although under the direct observation and fire of the enemy, he made a detailed reconnaissance of a nearby hill to establish an outpost line. When the infiltrating enemy emplaced a machine gun on a commanding ridge, he repeatedly exposed himself to the deadly fire to encourage his men and to direct more effectively the perimeter defense. By skillfully coordinating the action of the supporting infantry with that of his own command, he enabled friendly forces to regain the initiative and drive the foe to flight. …”
“ … for heroism in connection with ground operations against a hostile force while serving with Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, 8th Field Artillery Battalion, 25th Infantry Division, in Korea. Captain Dingeman’s battery was under heavy attack by infiltrating enemy near Ipsok, Korea, on 27 November 1950. Despite the proximity of the enemy and the intensity of small arms and automatic weapons fire, he constantly exposed himself, to direct the fire of his men until the enemy were driven back and his position secured. Captain Dingeman’s courage, determination and exemplary leadership reflect great credit upon himself and the military service.”