Raised in Gresham, Virginia man publishes book about childhood, war

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Dingmans book, Unlikely Warrior, is available on, e-book and most bookstores.“Unlikely Warrior” is the story of a country boy from Gresham whose faith in God carried him through hellish times serving as a combat medic for an infantry platoon in the Vietnam War.

Michael Dingman, who now lives in Virginia Beach, Va., said he began writing his book, “Unlikely Warrior: Memoirs of a Vietnam Combat Veteran,” for his children and grandchildren.

The 286-page paperback is a chronological account beginning with his childhood in Gresham and is later compiled from letters sent home from war to his mother and former wife.

Dingman, 64, says our culture has lost touch with the art of handing down stories to our children, and with it, the importance of retaining a sense of family history.

After starting the book and sitting on it for 16 years, Dingman finally finished his story. Released last week, “Unlikely Warrior” is now available on, e-book and in most bookstores.

‘Anything but brave’

Dingman wasn’t the kid who dreamed of becoming a soldier.

“As a child, I was anything but brave,” Dingman writes.

A small, fair-skinned “towhead,” Dingman says he enjoyed a carefree and faithful upbringing as the third born in a family of modest means, in the area of Pleasant Home.

After graduating from Gresham High School in 1967, Dingman went to Bible school and worked for a year at a children’s home before he was drafted into the Vietnam War.

But as a Christian who opposed carrying a weapon and being trained to kill, Dingman instead chose to serve as a conscientious objector.

With no idea where that would land him, he was dropped into a medical training camp at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, where he trained as a combat medic for the Army.

So began the journey of the Unlikely Warrior.

In the summer of 1969, 19-year-old Dingman joined the 3rd Battalion, 506th Infantry, 101st Airborne Division, a special detached task force with a historic reputation for being able to fight wherever it was needed.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Michael Dingman in uniform last year on Veterans Day after speaking at an CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - In Sept. 1969, the Gresham Outlook featured an article about Michael Dingman spreading the Christian word while in Vietnam. In World War II, the 506th Infantry Regiment was known as the “Stand Alone” battalion, and was the basis of the 2001 HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

On the fifth day of Dingman’s deployment, his platoon was ambushed and four men were killed after they walked straight into a North Vietnamese unit headquarters.

From then on, the faithful non-combatant decided to take up arms.

“I had been forced to choose between my decision not to carry a weapon and my responsibility as a medic to care for and protect those who might not be able to protect themselves,” Dingman writes.

He emphasizes the importance of his faith in God to stay alive.

“One time in Cambodia, we were walking down a well-worn enemy trail and I began to realize how vulnerable we were, and how easily the enemy could attack us if they wanted,” he said.

Dingman became so fearful, his knees began to shake uncontrollably for the first time in his life.

“I began to realize I needed to get control of my fear,” he said. So he started singing to himself, “quietly, songs I had learned in Sunday school and church. As I sang, my heart became calm and my knees stopped shaking, and I found the strength and courage to put one foot in front of the other and continue to do my job,” said Dingman, who would spend eight months as a platoon medic.

On May 5, 1970, President Nixon ordered a northern invasion into Cambodia.

Dingman’s battalion was the first and only battalion dropped on the first day of the invasion by helicopter into an area swarming with enemy resistance.

After a year at war, Dingman returned home briefly to Gresham before he took a job in Hollywood, where he worked for two years at the same children’s home where he had been before the war.

“I left home just a boy ... pretending to be a soldier,” Dingman writes in his book. “Now I was coming home a man who had come face to face with the realities of war and survived.”

Dingman married and raised two daughters.

In 1973, he moved back to Oregon, joined the ministry and served at the then Clinton St. Bible Chapel off Southeast 182nd Avenue and Clinton Street.

Dingman later moved to Seattle and eventually settled in Virginia Beach, where he now assists in ministries on a Navy base and spends time with his family, including two daughters and four grandchildren.

Dingman’s father and older brother still live in Gresham.

As it says on the back cover of the book, “’Unlikely Warrior’ is an achingly honest testimony of a decent boy becoming a man, trusting his God and doing his best to do the right thing while covered in mud and blood and ducking volleys of enemy fire.”

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