By Starrla Cray
DASSEL, MN No one who fought in the first world war is still alive to tell about it, but the story of one local hero is being preserved in a new book titled “First Dassel Battlefield Casualty in World War I.”
The book centers on Paul F. Dille (the great uncle of former State Senator Steve Dille) who was killed in action in July 1918. Steve wrote the book with the help of his oldest son, Nicholas, and Paul’s uncle, Roland. Roland has since passed away, but his historical expertise including the ownership of 1,000 books about the war were instrumental in the project’s success.
“It’s a way to honor and remember a life that would be lost in time otherwise,” said Steve’s wife, Pam.
The book also provides detailed background about the war in general, including the events leading up to US involvement.
“You can understand what happened in WWI better if you understand Paul’s life,” Steve said.
He noted in the book’s introduction that “Paul represents just one of the millions of brave and talented young men and women who did not live to fulfill their potential and dreams.”
Paul grew up on a farm north of Dassel, and was valedictorian of his class in 1912. He then went on to college, graduating from the school of commerce. The same day he earned his degree, Paul volunteered for the US Marine Corps.
According to Roland’s records, Paul’s future plans included returning to college to become an attorney, and perhaps running for political office.
The book includes photos of Paul at rifle training in Maryland, on board the USS Georgia, and more.
Letters Paul wrote are also included. One of them starts out, “I don’t know whether to write in Swedish or English, but as I have to get a haircut in about an hour or so I guess I will write English. We have our own private barber here. A fellow from Minn. Ten cents a haircut and a nickel for a shave. Does a good job too.”
On Christmas Day in 1917, Paul’s letter was bittersweet. “I feel that I am just as happy out here as I would be at any place, because I am under His care who sleeps not. . . . I am glad that I can say that no matter what happens to me I know that I will see and enjoy that promised land; and as one person said, ‘Heaven is as close on the sea as it is on land.”
He added that when he decided to serve, he knew he’d have to make sacrifices. “I know that I would not feel right if I was not in uniform. Let us hope that before another year is gone, there need be no one in uniform.”
The war did end, on Nov. 11, 1918, but Paul was not among the soldiers returning home. He and many others had been killed about four months earlier, in the Battle of Soissons (about 50 miles northeast of Paris).
“The Allies assembled 513 tanks for the Battle of Soissons, the greatest use of tanks in WWI,” Steve’s book notes. The battle was considered a turning point in the war, with the Allies victorious and the Germans again in retreat.
According to the book, about 32,500 Allied soldiers died in that battle, along with 56,700 German soldiers.
A chart detailing the total number of WWI casualties in each country is located near the end of the book, along with a roster of all those from Meeker County who served in WWI.
After the war the Paul F. Dille American Legion Post was formed, remembering the first soldier from Dassel to be killed in a war involving the United States.
The book’s target publication date is Monday, May 1. On Memorial Day, the Dassel History Center will feature an exhibit based on the book. Look for details in a future edition of the Enterprise Dispatch.