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DOMINICK DUNNE, A TOUGH MAN FOR TOUGH TIMES
HIS FIRST EXCLUSIVE LIFE STORY

DD: Yes. I was afraid of him. I got to the point where I was afraid to speak. I mean I’m still partially deaf from being punched in the ear. It swelled to about twice its size. It went forever from the purple stage to the yellow stage to the…. I was in the fifth grade at the time. But, I was always so afraid of him, like when he would go over my homework with me. I would think the wrong answer even when I knew the right answer, if you know what I mean.

JH: Did he hit you because you didn’t play sports?

DD: No, I’d said some wise-ass remark. But he went too far, and he knew it, and he was upset about it.

JH: How did you like it when you got shipped off to boarding school? Was that a relief for you?

DD: Yeah. It was a relief to get away from my father. My brothers get upset when I talk about it and think it’s disloyal. I don’t want to be disloyal to him. He was a wonderful man. He was a great heart surgeon. When he died there were thousands of people [at his funeral]. He was an extraordinary man, but he had this bug against me. And we never got it straightened out. Never.

JH: What did your mother think about your being treated the way you were?

DD: You know it was so interesting—my mother didn’t come into her own until her widowhood. She was the wife. In her widowhood, one time I tried to talk to her about it, and she said, "That didn’t happen. Why do you say these things?" My brothers are the same. It was something about me. I’ve long since come to terms with that. But, what parents don’t realize is that if you hurt a kid’s feelings, it can have lasting effects.

When I went off [to war] at 18—I got drafted—he drove me to the induction center in New Haven. There were some fights in the car going, and I was crying. I wasn’t crying because I was saying goodbye. I was crying because he had hurt my feelings just when I was going into the war. On the other hand, years later I found letters that he used to write to me overseas, and he said about my letters, "You should think about becoming a writer." And when I found those years later, I couldn’t believe he had said that.

JH: Given all of your success since the war, how do you think your father would feel about you now? Would he be proud of all your accomplishments?

DD: Oh, I’m sure he would. I’m sure he would.

I was in the Battle of the Bulge and I saved a man’s life. I got a Bronze Star, and it was in all the papers, and he was proud of that. But my older brother was the glamourous one. It was a horrible thing to him. He spent the whole war in Officer’s Training School, and the sissy brother comes back....

JH: Were you treated as a hero at home?

DD: No (laughing). It was a Thursday when I got back. It was the cook’s night out, and we went to the club for dinner, the whole kit and caboodle—six kids. And I was in my uniform. I had just gotten home that day and nobody mentioned the Bronze Star. Everyone was embarrassed. See, that was supposed to be Dick, my older brother, who would be the one who did all this stuff. Instead, this schmuck comes home and everyone was embarrassed. No one said anything.

So we got up to the club, and I’ll never forget this moment. I had a great friend when I was a kid called Charlie Shepard in West Hartford. And Charlie Shepard’s mother was coming down the stairs and I was standing there, just back...and she came over to me and put her arms around my neck and she said, "We are all proud of you," and I started to cry. After that, then [my family] could talk about it. Do you see?

JH: I think a lot of families do that to some respect. They don’t want to over-blow it and make it look like they’re boasting, but once someone else talks about it, it’s okay, because that person opened the door. What did you do to save this person’s life?

DD: There was another preppy kid with me, Hank Bresky. He was a terrific guy who had gone to Choate. We stuck to each other for three years; we totally understood each other. When our packages would come from home, we’d have tin boxes of Louis Sherry chocolates, and these other people would get Milky Way bars that were falling out of their packages. We were with the toughest guys. They called us the Gold Dust twins and made fun of us.

And so on this night, it was raining. It was muddy. We were out of range of the enemy and in retreat. There was artillery fire over our heads. The Germans were approaching us and somebody came up and said to the lieutenant there were two men back there that were wounded. And the lieutenant said, "My orders are to retreat. We can’t go back." And my buddy—the other Gold Dust guy—and I went. We looked at each other. We never said one word to each other, and we both ran back toward [enemy lines]...in the pitch dark!

"That was a very brave thing you did, Private Dunne."
I am a person who has no sense of direction, and we found these guys. I am small. To this day, I do not know how I picked up and carried this dying man with no direction to go in. Hank got one guy and I got the other and we carried and carried and didn’t know we’d lost our unit. We came on a Red Cross truck with a scared doctor and asked if he minded taking these guys. He finally took ’em. And when I put the guy on the stretcher he took my two fingers and squeezed them, and I was covered with his blood. I never knew if he lived or died. I never knew what happened to him. I didn’t know him, but he was a kid like we were.

Anyway, the word got out and a general came and gave us a salute on the field and said, "That was a very brave thing you did, Private Dunne." That’s what happened. And I never could bring myself to talk about it. I didn’t talk about this for forty years. I could never explain how I did what I did. I still to this day don’t know how I did it. Something entered me. They say that that happens, and it does.

So anyway, I don't know how long ago, but in New York I have an apartment and went to the coffee shop at the Waldorf Astoria. When I was alone and didn't have a lunch date, I would go to there at 2:30, when all the secretaries were gone, and read The New York Times at the counter. I look across at the other side of the counter and there's a guy looking at me, and I looked back. It was Hank [Bresky].

As close as we were, I hadn't seen him or contacted him in all these years. It was almost like...you know what I mean? And we got up in the Waldorf, we got up to go to the cash register and we hugged each other and we both began to cry. I moved my tuna fish over to his side and we sat there and had coffee for almost three hours, and I said "I was soooo scared." I'd never really said it before about the fear. Not just that night, but the whole goddamned time.

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