Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.
Date of birth: Dec. 31, 1920
Dates of service: 1942 to 1946
Lives in: Portales
Theater and location of service: South Pacific
Branch: Marine Air Corps
Unit and specialty: Squadron 241
In his words: Newly elected Eastern New Mexico University student-body president Preston Dunn walked away from his life as a student and enlisted when he heard news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. With a background in flying, Dunn became a pilot in the Marine Corps.
Flying the SBD Dauntless, a bomber, in the South Pacific, Dunn logged 66 missions. Their pace was so harried that Dunn said “I didn’t have time to feel. You were scared all the time anyway.”
Providing close air support for the infantry units on the ground, Dunn and his squadron assisted in retaking the Philippines from the Japanese. Seeing the state of the POWs rescued from the Japanese prison camps, those subjected to the Bataan Death March, had a strong impact on him. He was aware that many men from his hometown had been captured with the 200th Coastal Artillery, making it an event that touched him personally.
After they were rescued, many of the men spent the night in Dunn’s camp before returning to the U.S.. Dunn recalled talking with them. “They’d had all they wanted,” he said, explaining that their trauma was visible. “They carried their thoughts in their minds. Most of them were just happy to eat and have fun — they were thin, they’d (almost) starved to death,” he said. Knowing that he had helped to liberate the men gave him a sense of satisfaction. “We were thrilled to get them out” he said.
Following the war, Dunn returned to Portales to begin life with his new wife whom he had married six weeks before going overseas. Dunn’s contribution to the war earned him three Distinguished Flying Crosses and nine Air Medals, he said.
World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail: