ARLINGTON – Navy veteran Lindsay Dunn of Arlington will never forget the early-morning explosions that ripped through the USS Princeton during the Gulf War, just as he was catching up on sleep after coming off night watch.
“We got hit by two mines, with one of them exploding thirty to forty feet from where I was,” said the ship gas turbine mechanic. “The impact threw me hard against the wall, and injured several others.”
Dunn said of the trauma, “I truly know what it’s like to be inside a tin can, and get kicked.”
Stories such as these over the Veterans Day holiday serve as a reminder to honor those who have served in the military, and the families and community that supports them for protecting the freedoms of those at home and abroad.
The first mine struck the ship’s port quarter, followed by a second mine off the startboard bow. The Aegis Cruiser equipped with vertical launched surface-to-air missiles and assigned to the north Persian Gulf in support of the ground war in Iraq, was essentially a sitting duck.
These were perilous moments that were met with quick and valiant reaction from shipmates well-trained in damage control. In those moments, acts of heroism can come from even the most unlikely quarters.
“’Smitty’ was an offbeat guy, but he’s also the guy that saved our ship from sinking,” Dunn said. “He had the frame of mind to turn off the breakers and other electrical systems, even as water was gushing in, while we went to our duty stations. You just never knew who was going to be the one to save the day.
“We were just doing what we had to do, like we had been trained to do,” Dunn said.
Damage done, the ship was towed into dry dock in Dubai for repairs.
“The war was basically over for us,” Dunn said. “Our ship was done in. Those mines really tore the ship up.”
It was later the crew learned that the flagship of the U.S. mine countermeasure group during Operation Desert Storm – the USS Tripoli – that the Princeton and other ships were there to protect, struck a mine earlier that same morning. The ships were at the time on one of the most extensive mine-sweeping operations since the Korean War.
The USS Princeton was 10 nautical miles closer to the Kuwait coastline than the Tripoli. That basically meant that both ships were in the middle of an underwater minefield.
Dunn said he and other veterans are grateful that they were able to serve their country and return safely to loved ones.
He entered the military in the late 1980s a couple months after graduating from Lake Stevens High School.
Dunn didn’t have a mentor at the time – he believes every teen should have one – so he joined the Navy to get that discipline for life, attending boot camp in Michigan.
“That’s where I learned a lot about integrity, accountability, honor and surprisingly, how to study the right way.”
That helped him when he went to a technical school to become a mechanic.
Dunn was a member of the first crew aboard the USS Princeton (CG-59) that sailed from Pascagoula, Miss. through the Panama Canal to its homeport in Long Beach, Calif.
One of his favorite non-wartime memories shared at reunions came in 1990 when the Princeton visited Vladivostok, USSR, the first American ship to visit the strategic east coast Russian port since World War II. These were heady historical times when the Berlin Wall came down to end the Cold War, and the visit became the foundation for exchange visits with Russian vessels visiting San Diego and other U.S. ports.
Dunn noted that the soldiers and civilians were the nicest people, but especially among soldiers, they had no freedom to choose whether they wanted to be in the military. Several families living in a place not much bigger than a box scrambled around the neighborhood to pull together food supplies where they could, and they hosted a big dinner in his shipmates’ honor.
He was honorably discharged from service in early 1992.
Dunn said he and his wife, Sandra, love living in Arlington. They have a grown son living in Darrington, and a 6-year-old grandson, Bentley, whom they are raising after their daughter passed away.
“We are taking care of him and making sure he gets a good education,” Dunn said. “I teach him structure.”
Last July, Dunn took the helm as Commander of VFW Post 1561 in Arlington. The group supports local veterans, most recently when they raised $1,900 selling Buddy Poppies at the Smokey Point Walmart and the Navy Commissary to honor deceased veterans.
He said they are touched by the many ways that the community supports military veterans and honors ongoing traditions. Notably, the flags up and down Olympic Avenue, as well as Sunday’s annual Veterans Day parade and 4th of July parades which the VFW is involved both as marchers and organizers, along with American Legion Post No. 76 members.
“I’ve seen many times what this community does in terms of the military; there is so much support,” he said.
Among youth in Arlington, he added, “The respect is awesome, ‘yes, sir, no, sir,’ not something you’re used to in the big city.”
After the service, Dunn attended college on a GI bill, then got a job as an engineer with Burlington Northern/Santa Fe, where he drove the rails for 25 years.
Dunn is an occasional attendee at City Council meetings because being invested in your community is one of the pillars of being a citizen in a free country. He doesn’t hesitate to speak under audience participation if he has an issue he wants to share with the mayor, council members and staff.
“It’s important to be aware of what is going on, and it’s important to volunteer and get involved in something you believe in.”
Veterans Day activities in Arlington
Annual Veterans Day Parade – 11 a.m. Sunday, Olympic Avenue and Legion Park.
Dedication – Civil War Cpl. Grant headstone, kiosk – 12:30 p.m. Sunday, Pioneer Cemetery, Gifford Avenue north off Fifth Street near Terrace Park. Hosted by Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society.