When Luther Dappen came home this month after spending the winter in Texas, he walked into a living room full of boxes he didn’t order.
The Korean War veteran had been the recipient of a gift of 2,500 protective masks that he has been able to distribute to the local hospital, nursing home, assisted living and police officers in Flandreau. In addition, he took 10 of the 25 boxes the Veteran’s Administration in Sioux Falls.
The masks had been sent by the Korean government to Dappen, he assumes because he is president of the South Dakota Korean War Veterans Association.
“They seemed real appreciative of it,” he said of the distributions that he made in person.
“It was at my discretion at how I wanted to try and distribute them,” he said. “They either heard or thought that the Korean vets might be out of masks or couldn’t get masks.”
While Dappen, 90, was surprised to find the boxes in his house when he came home later than usual this year, Brian Relf, who mows Dappen’s lawn, had seen them setting on the steps outside a couple of days earlier in rainy weather.
“I didn’t know what they were. I just knew they couldn’t sit outside,” Relf said. So, he hauled the boxes in for Dappen.
Dappen was born in Burke, grew up on a Gregory County farm and graduated from high school. While living in Flandreau for the last nearly 50 years, he spent 30 years as a counselor at the Flandreau Indian School, retiring in 1992.
Dappen served in the 25th Infantry, reconnaissance division in the Korean War in 1950 and 1951 and has visited the country three times after the war, including a trip with his family last year.
“It was a wonderful experience, but I certainly would not want to try it again. I might not be so lucky,” he said of the war.
In 2000, Dappen made his first trip back to Korea with the Korean War Veteran’s association, something he is eligible for every 10 years. He has enjoyed seeing the country and the people again.
“They treated us like royalty,” he said. “When I left Korea in late 1951, in Seoul I can’t remember a building standing. Now the city of Seoul, it looks like a modern city.”