Bob Dingeman’s military career
By John Gregory
This is the first part of a three-part series about the military career of Bob Dingeman.
Most residents know Bob Dingeman as “Mr. Scripps Ranch,” the longtime leader of the Scripps Ranch Civic Association. He has done an enormous amount of volunteer work in the community, starting from a time when few homes stood anywhere near his own; the same home which now stands in the center of a pleasant neighborhood near Miramar Ranch Elementary School. So great are his contributions to this area that Dingeman Elementary School bears his name and he has been honored numerous times by the City of San Diego. His home, which he shares with his lifelong wife Gaye, is filled with mementos, news clippings and awards from his civic activism. What stand out most are the ribbons, medals, photos and displays that reflect his time in the U.S. Army.
People understand that Dingeman is a retired U.S. Army colonel, but they know little about his military career. The fact is that Dingeman is a living piece of history.
He is a survivor of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He is a graduate of West Point. He commanded large artillery units in combat. He served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Dingeman holds several academic degrees. He oversaw nuclear weapons. He served many times as a valuable staff officer, assisting with historic efforts during times of occupation, rebuilding, ending conflicts and deterring war.
Listening to his stories is like coming upon a treasure of military exploits, examples of leadership and heroism. The memories seem to flash across his gaze as the stories spring from his lips. He began with the following account of action when he was an artillery captain serving in the Korean War.
“We were supporting the 27th Infantry and the Chinese had fired on my unit. An incoming shell had hit the camouflage net which was over my gun position. I had the 105 (mm) howitzers … firing as rapidly as we could. When we fire as rapidly as we can, you take the ammunition out of the boxes and put it so that the soldiers can pick it up. What they do is they take the projectile, put it in the canister and then put it into the howitzer.
“Unfortunately, an incoming round came in and hit the camouflage. Luckily, no one was killed. We had a few men wounded, but the fragments fell into the ready ammunition.
“The ammunition was going off like rockets. I evacuated the men from the firing position. Then I was able, with the Lord’s help, to pick up these fountaining projectiles that were so hot, and I took them across the road and laid them in the ditch and so forth.
“The interesting thing about that was one of my sergeants, Sgt. Holster, who had been with me for a year and a half … wrote on a piece of scrap paper. It said, ‘I think the old man needs to be decorated for his heroism.’ He handed this scrap of paper to the commanding general of the 25th Division. The commanding general took one look at it and gave it to the chief of staff, and the end result was that I received the Soldier’s Medal, which is the highest award of any Army person during non-combat operations.”
It’s fascinating to think Dingeman found the interesting part from that story to be about a note written on a piece of scrap paper. Furthermore, there are some who would argue that firing artillery rapidly in support of an infantry unit while coming under enemy fire should be considered “combat,” and perhaps Dingeman should have received an even greater medal for his heroic actions on that day. Yet, Dingeman had nothing negative to say about the award and somehow looked at the situation in a positive manner. In fact, he beamed with pride while recounting the story.
“When the time came for it to be awarded to me, I had come back to the United States. I was the plans officer at the Field Artillery Replacement Training Center at Fort Sill (Oklahoma) and I was able to arrange a parade for my father (an Army colonel) who was retiring,” Dingeman stated with tremendous pride. “That was my father’s last official act … to present me with the Soldier’s Medal. So, that, out of all my awards and decorations, has a wonderful feeling for me.”
Dingeman, showing the slightest bit of regret, but again ending with a positive thought, lifted his arm and stared at it for a moment.
“The only trouble is,” he said as he paused for a few seconds, eyeing his scarred hand. “It — it wrecked my hand. But with the Lord’s help, I was able to overcome it.”
That was the most emotional part of the interview, which lasted nearly three hours. Believe it or not, it was not the most intense or action-packed story Dingeman revealed on that morning.
Medals awarded to Bob Dingeman
The Soldier’s Medal was just one of the many awards Dingeman would receive during his 30 years of military service. Here is a list of his decorations for heroism, bravery, valor and service (not including badges, unit awards, service stripes for combat overseas or campaign medals with battle stars):
• Silver Star (heroism)
• Soldier’s Medal (bravery)
• Purple Heart (wounds)
• Bronze Star (3 awards for valor, 4 awards for combat service)
• Legion of Merit (5 awards for outstanding service)
• Meritorious Service Medal for Outstanding Service
• Air Medal (11 awards and “V” device for aerial combat missions)
• Commendation Medal (3 awards and “V” device)
• Cross of Gallantry, Vietnam (with star for heroism)
For official Army accounts of his actions regarding some of these medals, visit bit.ly/2f6wYQw.
• Victory Medal WWII
• Occupation Forces Medal Japan
• Hawaii Territorial Guard Decoration
• Korean Special Combat Award
• United Nations Medal Korean War
• Korean Government Special Award, 27th Regiment, 25th Infantry Division
• French Government Special Awards
A personal note about this series:
I first saw Bob Dingeman in the fall of 1988. He was speaking at the ribbon cutting for the Los Penasquitos Canyon Preserve Ranch House and I was covering the event as editor of the Mira Mesa/Scripps Ranch Star News, later renamed the Sentinel. Looking at a map, I noticed that the preserve didn’t seem to be in Scripps Ranch, but Dingeman was on the preserve’s committee. He was involved in everything. During my years as editor there in 1988-1989, I was on the phone with Bob Dingeman at least once each week. He wanted to make sure our readers understood every aspect of every project he headed.
It wasn’t long before I requested a full interview, and Dingeman obliged. The article, titled “Retired warrior now serves as guardian of Scripps Ranch,” ran Jan. 5, 1989.
I remember two things struck me following that interview. 1) He detailed the events following one of his helicopter crashes he survived in Vietnam. He said he climbed out of his chopper and had to take out some enemy soldiers who surrounded the crash site. “And, John, I’m a good fighter,” he said with emphasis. I certainly believed him. 2) Dingeman casually mentioned he served as a negotiator in the Middle East on arms control and delivery of weapons. But he didn’t mention it again, even after I asked follow-up questions. It was then that I realized he was involved behind the scenes in historic efforts more than he would admit.
In early May of this year, Dingeman granted me another full interview and invited me to his home. It’s a quaint one-level house with a lush backyard. While Dingeman is not as active as he once was, he still pens a monthly column in the Scripps Ranch Civic Association newsletter, and remains perceptive with a good memory. I was honored to meet him in person for this interview.
Afterward, I struggled with selecting an approach to writing the story. Dingeman skipped from tale to tale, many packed with vivid action and suspense. I was afraid I would dampen the context by overediting the recounting, by attempting to place it in chronological order. Therefore, I decided to provide Dingeman’s quotes in the order in which he told them, one after another.
Here, in order to shed a bit of light on the chronological order of events in his life, I have pulled out memories and details from my interview and subsequent story about Dingeman from nearly 27 years ago:
- Dingeman comes from a family with an extensive military background.
- He was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese in 1941.
- He served as the personal bodyguard of Gov. Poindexter of Hawaii.
- He was selected to be a West Point cadet in 1942 and graduated in 1945.
- He served in Japan following WWII.
- He was trained in arctic and mountain rescue at Ft. Carson, Colorado.
- He entered the Korean War with the 27th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, 8th Field Artillery.
- He returned from Korea to train men for that war.
- He served three years at West Point, then went on to the Commanding General Staff College at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
- He attended USC where he earned advanced degrees in mechanical engineering, guided missiles, electrical engineering, and nuclear physics.
- He served as the planning officer for the Nike Zeus missile system in Colorado Springs. During this time, he was on three ad hoc committees at the presidential level in national defense.
- He was assigned to headquarters in Paris, France where he served as nuclear weapons and guided missiles project officer, as well as military assistance officer. He travelled all over Europe and the Middle East on military assistance assignments.
- He was assigned to Germany where he commanded the 16th Field Artillery Honest John missile delivery unit on the Czech border.
- Following a couple of assignments in the States, he served as the personal assistant to the Secretary of Defense as a trouble shooter for two years. In this role, he was sent all over the world: Pakistan, Malaya, Singapore, Tehran.
- He volunteered for duty in Vietnam.
- Following his tours in Vietnam, he served at the Army War College as director of Strategic Intelligence Planning, Soviet Union.
- He was chief of staff at the Army’s Test Evaluation Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
- He participated in a total of 16 campaigns through eight years of combat.
- Besides his degrees from USC, Dingeman holds a Master’s in History from UCSD, and a Master’s in Political Science from George Washington University. He also taught political science and history at Miramar Community College.
Dingeman retired from the Army in 1976 and, along with his wife, eventually chose Scripps Ranch as home. Once here, he decided to become active in planning and helping the community as it grew. “There’s nothing I’m not involved in,” he said in 1989. “There were so many things I’d felt needed to be done … I’ve devoted at least 40 hours of every week to doing community activities.”
Back then, Dingeman urged residents to get involved in their planning group instead of complaining about something that had already been discussed and decided upon. He referred to a local saying from those days: “A very small clique runs Scripps Ranch. This very small clique is spelled v-o-l-u-n-t-e-e-r.”
Of all the things Dingeman had done and seen at that time, he said young people made the biggest impact on him. “I saw wonderful 18 and 19-year-olds in Vietnam,” he said.
During that interview in 1989 he offered some advice regarding young people, a view that carries as much meaning today as it did then: “Don’t try and curb all their natural instincts … I think we make too much of the kids who get in trouble and not enough of those who don’t. They live in a very confusing world.”