Honor decades in the making
Like straight out of a movie, Elizabeth Inman distinctly remembers one afternoon in the early 1970s.
At her grandmother’s house, a car pulled up and out stepped members of the military, including a chaplain.
Inman, 11 years old at the time, remembers her mother’s reaction.
“They came to the door and I heard my mom scream and my sisters and I were sent across the street to my cousin’s house,” Inman said.
Her father, Chief Petty Officer Donald E. Dickerson was pronounced missing after his plane went down in the China Sea on his way to Vietnam in December 1971. Three other men were aboard the plane.
His mission was to go to Vietnam and, from there, he was going to board a ship and head out to sea. Dickerson was heading for a secret mission as part of the Navy.
However, even though Dickerson served his country and made the ultimate sacrifice, the U.S. government has yet to honor the California native with a place among the fallen heroes at the National Vietnam Memorial.
“I let it sit for years after initially trying and hearing the Navy’s response. It didn’t really make sense,” Inman said of the Navy’s decision. “But a couple of years ago, I contacted our administration here in Madera and let them know that I was trying to get my father’s name and service recognized. I gave any push I could give.”
Inman’s efforts to help her father were rewarded a year later when she received a call from a gentleman with the California Department of Veterans Affairs in Sacramento and he said that he would like to know more about Dickerson.
The CDVA wanted to include Dickerson in the California Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial monument, which is going to be unveiled Oct. 20, in Sacramento.
“My father was eligible to be on the California wall after being voted in by a large committee,” Inman, who resides in Madera, said.
Names were submitted and the committee voted on which names would make it on the memorial wall in Sacramento, including Dickerson and three other California men on the plane that went missing.
“Their names will be added, as well as my father’s,” Inman said.
The news is a sense of closure for the Dickersons after not really knowing what happened to the patriarch of the family. In his early 30s, Dickerson never made it back home to his family.
And even to this day, the circumstances around the plane are still foggy.
“They never really told us what had happened, other than his plane went missing. I do know that it went down in the South China Sea. It never made it and they found nothing,” Inman said.
Inman was only 11 when her father went to war in 1971, after years of military service beforehand.
But, her memories of her father are still crisp in her mind.
She was always obedient as a child, maybe a little too much. “My father would always tell a story about me to all of his military buddies. He used to brag that I would do anything he said, that I was a very obedient child. My mom said they were at a party — because the military always had parties, I remember that — and I was walking by one night and he told me to go to bed and I laid down at his feet and went to bed, right there,” Inman laughed.
Her memories, although few due to her youth at the time, are all of happy times. Dickerson was a happy man who always knew how to have fun.
“He was a happy dad and he always wanted to spend as much time with his girls that he could,” Inman said. “But, he was a strict discipliner and you couldn’t get much past him.”
Dickerson was born on Dec. 22, 1937 in Keota, Oklahoma. He later moved to California with his family, before enlisting in the Navy in January 1955.
After recruit training, Dickerson was stationed aboard the USS Bremerton, a heavy cruiser, where he served two years. Dickerson was sent back to San Diego, where he finished recruit school and underwent training at Yeoman Class A School, before being promoted to Yeoman Third Class.
In November 1957, Dickerson reported to Washington, D.C., to work in the Bureau of Naval Personnel. In December of 1959, he was promoted to Yeoman Second Class and a year later, Dickerson requested a change in his career field.
He became a communications technician.
But Dickerson wanted to reenlist for the purpose of receiving orders for training at the Naval Technical Training Center at Pensacola two years later in 1962.
Dickerson graduated from communication technician training later that year in November and reported to the U.S. Naval Communication Station Port Lyautey, Morocco (now Kenitra).
After his tour in Morocco, Dickerson returned home in 1965 after three years, but took on a new role with the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland, where he was awarded the Joint Services Commendation Medal.
Dickerson finished his time in Maryland and traveled to Japan in 1968 for work with the NSA.
In 1971 Dickerson traveled to the US Naval Communication Station at San Miguel in the Republic of the Philippines for duty with the National Security Group Department.
Later that same year, en route to Tan Son Nhut Air Base in South Vietnam, Dickerson and the military aircraft he was traveling on went missing.
Throughout his time in the military, Dickerson was awarded four Good Conduct Awards, the China Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
“My grandmother had 13 kids and they were all extremely proud of my dad. Of his military career, his accomplishments, he was so special. Even though my aunts and uncles have passed, I have one uncle still alive in Oregon and many cousins and family members are coming to the memorial Oct. 20.
“They have been told about everything my father did, so they want to be there as well. I don’t even know if all of them ever met my dad, because we were away in Africa, Japan and Maryland when I was growing up, but they want to be there. They want to be there to support him.”
Almost 30 people will be traveling to the monument’s unveiling in Sacramento.
“My father meant everything to our family, and we are happy and excited he will be honored.”