Johan Dybdahl, U.S. Army, 1967-69

Johan Dybdahl served in Korea in the 36th Engineer Group.


Johan Dybdahl was drafted in 1967.  He was fishing and as the boat he was on passed his house in Hoonah, his mother ran out on porch “waving a white thing” and he knew exactly what it was- his draft notice. 

He eventually became a drill instructor in Fort Ord, California.  Mister Dybdahl thought he could get a lot more out of the men by “treating them like men” instead of yelling at them.  He ended up training 11 Bravo infantry and 81MM mortar guys.  Then he had orders to go overseas to South Korea. 

As an E5 sergeant he was supposed to be in command of a gun post on the DMZ.  First he went on leave to Alaska, and when he came back one day late his orders changed again and he was assigned to a combat engineer group, “the only infantry guy in the unit”, about 20 miles from the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).  Part of his job was to go on search missions for North Korean infiltrators.  He served his year with that engineer group. 

“The Koreans wanted us there but as a group we weren’t very good ambassadors, we didn’t treat the Koreans well”.  He said that when South Koreans in the army went on leave, they were not allowed to take public transportation- no buses, no trains.  They had to have 5lb. bags attached to their feet and walk to where they were headed.  “These people were tough.”  Highly anti-communist, the South Koreans would sacrifice their own family to make sure that North Korean infiltrators were shot and killed. 

Mister Dybdahl commented that “The Koreans were a resourceful people, they wasted nothing.  When driving, when you finished a can of Coke and threw it out on the road, you’d see in the rearview mirror, somebody popping up and grabbing that can right away.  They turned those cans into stovepipes.”

Johan was able to make a short wave radio call from the back of a military jeep- the radio cost about $100,000 in 1968, about $720,000 in 2018 dollars)- from Korea to the White Alice station in Hoonah.  The call was then patched through to a hard line to his parents’ home and he was able to talk to them that Christmas. 

When he first got to Korea he donated money to Korean orphanages.  But when he found out that no babies that had G.I. fathers were accepted into the orphanages, that these mixed race babies were turned out on the street and had to be raised by Korean “business girls”, he quit donating money to the orphanages. 

Johan Dybdahl was discharged at Fort Lewis, Washington.  He had only his military dress uniform on.  He thought he should go to Second Street; it was spring, and places like the Red Lotus Bar were apt to have Hoonah fishermen who had been flown down to prepare the purse seine boats for the summer salmon fishing.  He went into a bar and was immediately accosted by a couple of people from Wrangell, badmouthing him and accusing him of being a “baby killer”.  All of a sudden, some arms wrapped around one of the guys’ head and neck, someone else grabbed the woman, and the Wrangell people were thrown out of the bar.  His helpers were guys from Hoonah, Richard Bean and his crew.  Richard’s sons Victor Bean and Richard Jr. were both serving at that time.  It was a great welcome and got him thinking more about getting back to Hoonah and going fishing. 

Johan Dybdahl