Ralph Dahm was born January 27, 1943. While growing up, he and his younger brother, Ron, spent a lot of time doing farm work.
The boys lost their father in 1947 when Ralph was four. He was one-and-a-half years older than Ron. Erna Dahm had two little boys to care for without her husband to help.
“We moved in with grandma and grandpa on the farm,” said Ron. “We did farm work there and also used to go by Uncle Butch and Aunt Tootie to help them, especially with haying because they had a bigger farm.”
Ron remembers his brother as a very shy boy and young man who was fun-loving, enjoyed life and had a great sense of humor.
“He liked sports, but didn’t play in high school other than football,” said Ron. “Ralph did play dartball with the church group and he loved to bowl. He bowled at Radke’s in Ashippun and once in a while at an alley in Hustis-ford.”
“He would do odd jobs during the summers and when fall rolled around and farmers had a lot more work to do, Ralph was really busy,” said Ron. “But he enjoyed it.”
Ralph drove semi for apallet company near Iron Ridge, dropping off pallets in Milwaukee.
“He liked driving semi trucks,” said Ron. “Ralph wouldn’t even have to see the truck, he could tell from the sound it made what kind of semi it was. They each had a different sound.”
Ralph was driving a milk truck for Stange Cheese Factory in Rubicon when he received his draft notice in 1965. He headed to Milwaukee as directed.
“He was a big guy anyway, but Ralph probably weighed 260-270 at the time he got drafted,” recalls Ron. “When he got to Milwaukee, he was told his blood pressure was too high and he was overweight. They gave him a letter telling him to go backin a year, see how things were then.”
So Ralph made an appointment to see a doctor and that doctor put Ralph on a diet and exercise program. A year later, he weighed 195 pounds and the Army accepted him.
In the spring of 1966, Ralph left for basic training, which was in Fort Hood, TX. Ron and his wife, Karen, drove there for their honeymoon in November so they could spend some time with Ralph.
The soldier was home for Christmas in 1966. Christmas 1967 was spent in Vietnam. SP4 Ralph Dahm and his unit of the 198th Light Infantry Brigade got ready to leave the United States in September 1967.
“Every day someonefrom the family wrote a letter to Ralph, so he got mail quite often,” said Karen. “He was very good about replying.”
One thing Ralph never talked about in the letters he wrote was anything re-garding the Vietnam War.
“Not a single word about the war, nothing about what was going on or what he was doing or had done,” added Ron.
Film that the Dahm family had received had not yet been developed on February 8, 1968. That was when Ralph Albert Dahm paid the ultimate sacrifice, killed by a grenade in Quang Nam, South Vietnam less than two weeks after his 25th birthday. “Twenty-four others died that day,” said Ron.
Ralph’s high school photo can be seen on the viewing screen at the Horicon American Legion Post, where he is a member. “The week before they died, everybody put their names on a list with their home addresses so they could keep in contact once they got back home,” said Ron. That list of names was very meaningful. “We – Karen and I and cousins – wrote letters to all of them,” Ron explained. “And we got responses back from each one.”
Years later, Jerry Buelow, who was a sergeant at the time of Ralph’s service to his country, decided to hold a reunion The reunion was for not only the soldiers in the 198th Light Infantry Brigade, but also their families and the families of those who were no longer alive. Some had lost their lives in the Vietnam War and others had passed away after returning to the United States.
“We were invited, and Karen and I went,” said Ron. “The reunion was held in Iowa that year and everybody had a great time. There’s been a reunion every year since. They’ve met in different places, different states. Karen and I made it to only that first one, but we enjoyed it, had a good time.”
When the Vietnam Traveling Wall was in Brownsville in October 2005, members of the Dahm family were there. A picture of Erna sitting on a Harley Davidson motorcycle as she waits to take a spin appeared in the October 20 issue of The Horicon Reporter. Gold Star Mothers were offered rides on the bikes as part of the ceremonies. “Jim Sperling happened to be driving that Harley,” said Ron. “I was surprised that Ma did that. It was great.” A member of the American Legion Riders, Jim Sperling lived in Horicon. Ron knew Jim, but his mother did not.
More than 48 years have passed since Ralph paid the ultimate sacrifice. Those years have not dimmed the remembrances Ron and Karen have of Ralph. “His dream was to order a Corvette,” said Ron with a smile. “He wanted to pick it up in California and drive it home.” Ron remembers his brother loved to eat Snickers bars and suck on popsicle sticks.
Ralph never married, but he had a lot of friends. “He had a lot of friends and they’d have a lot of fun together. Even now, I shake my head when I think of some of the things they’d do,” said Ron. “Ralph was definitely a character.”