In Memoriam: Johnny Dahl, former mayor of Eagle Nest

Johnny Dahl in 2003

July 30, 1933 – May 14, 2016

Johnny Dahl, former Mayor of Eagle Nest, died May 14, 2016, in Albuquerque from complications of being exposed to Agent Orange while serving as a military officer in Vietnam. Johnny’s wife Kay was by his side, as she always was during their 38 years of marriage.

Johnny was born to John and Ellen Dahl July 30, 1933, in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. His uncle Walter Dahl bought the Horseshoe Camp in 1949. Johnny came to work for his uncle that summer at age 15 and fell in love with Eagle Nest.

Johnny was a top athlete in school and had just won the National AAU Junior Olympic track title. After graduating from Okmulgee High School, Johnny was given a full five-year track scholarship to the University of Oklahoma. He excelled there and helped make the Sooner’s track team one of the elite teams in the United States. Johnny’s name is on the Barry Switzer Center wall at OU. Johnny once told Kay he never prayed to God to let him win but to just let him finish.

Johnny was in the ROTC at OU and, when he graduated in 2957 with a B.S. in education, he also graduated as the most distinguished military graduate out of 200 students. He was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a commanding officer. This was the beginning of an extraordinary Army career: His commendations include Legion of Merit, Meritorious Service Medal, Bronze Star, Army Commendation Medal, plus 10 others.

Johnny served twice in Vietnam and was instrumental in the successful signing of the Paris Peace Treaty. He was handpicked by the Pentagon to go to a POW camp for North Vietnamese prisoners. The Red Cross said prisoners were being treated inhumanely and the treaty was on hold until this was rectified.

History: Dahl helped improve life for enemy POWs

“Johnny did without any direction from Washington and for his efforts he received the Legion of Merit, the highest medal a living soldier can receive,” Kay said.

His first tour of duty in Vietnam was in 1966 as Deputy Provost Marshal of the 21st Field Force. He has command control of 75,000 troops. He received only praise from rating officers. While Director of Doctrine and Literature he wrote training manuals, some still in existence today.

“Johnny’s commendations and honors were so many,” Kay said. “While at the Pentagon as Chief of War Room he had a direct phone to the President’s Chief of Staff who he talked with every day. Lt. Col. Johnny Dahl was in charge of letting the White House know of crises or anything going on internationally. He was rated as one of the the best of team chiefs and was promoted to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

“Johnny told me it was the best job he ever had, making a major contribution to officer education and giving distinguished visitors tours of college facilities,” Kay said. “For his superb leadership he was rated to be promoted to full colonel, but during a visit to his parents in Albuquerque he met me. He always said I was the one God chose for him.”

Kay and Johnny Dahl in 2001
Kay and Johnny Dahl in 2001 (Chronicle file photo)

Johnny and Kay were married November 23, 1978, and Johnny retired from the U.S. Army after 22 years.

When the Horseshoe Camp came up for sale in 1982, according to Kay, “Johnny knew he had to have it” even though “the business was in a sad state of dilapidation and financial ruin.”

Johnny’s son Jeff had just graduated from Virginia Tech and came immediately to help his dad. Through massive hard work and long hours, Johnny and Jeff turned the run-down tackle store, cabins and motel into what was known in New Mexico as one of the best sole proprietor enterprises in Northeastern New Mexico. Dahl’s business came to include the Horseshoe Store, which later became the Lucky Shoe, Texaco, Mickey’s Ski Rental, Eagle Nest Laundromat, Horseshoe Cottages, Subway Sandwich Shop and the Marina on the Lake, which he leased from Les Davis. Johnny and his sons renovated the Marina, tackle shop and cottages.

“When the lake came up for sale, Johnny made many trips to the governor’s office and hosted state senators to a huge picnic buffet out on the marina to persuade them to buy the lake for a State Park,” Kay said. “Some senators, if not most, had never been to Eagle Nest Lake. They were impressed and they fund the $20 million to buy the lake. That winter the Davis family came and bulldozed all the marina buildings down. It was costly and sad for Johnny but he was happy it would soon be a State Park.”

Johnny became an Eagle Nest Village Councilman in 1983 and served three terms — 12 years.

In 1990 the governor of Oklahoma asked Johnny to become the Director of Civil Emergency Management for the state. He and Kay left the Horseshoe with Jeff and his wife Karla and went to Oklahoma City. Johnny was in charge of 450 emergency managers in 11 counties, which he personally visited giving each county a disaster plan.

“Here, again, Johnny saved lives,” Kay said. “There were many tornado disasters but with Johnny’s plan no lives were lost. He was told that he had done more for the agency than had ever been done since its inception and that he was the very first director to visit their county.”

In 1993, soon after returning to Eagle Nest, Johnny lost his eyesight due to Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.

“Even though he was legally blind, Johnny had many in Eagle Nest encourage him to run for mayor,” Kay said. “He was elected twice and served as mayor of Eagle Nest for eight years.”

As a councilman and mayor, Kay said, Johnny never accepted a salary but had it put back into village coffers. He and Kay travelled all over the state with the New Mexico Municipal League promoting Eagle Nest.

“Johnny lobbied at all the legislative sessions (both 60 and 30-day) and never, with any of his travels, did he charge the village per diem expenses. He became good friends with both Republicans and Democrats in Santa Fe.”

Dahl’s accomplishments include securing funding for a multi-purpose building, a senior citizen center and the Therma Drive project, which brought curbs, gutters and old-fashioned street lights to Eagle Nest, and moving the Highway Department yard to its current location away from the school.

Johnny served for a short while on the Vietnam Memorial board. He was also on the New Mexico Reintegration Center board. Johnny and former Eagle Nest resident Kenneth Moore took out personal loans to build the Moreno Valley Church of Christ.

He was honored for his work with the aging and received a certificate from the New Mexico state senate for his “many years of service as the mayor of Eagle Nest and daily efforts… to improve the Moreno Valley.”

According to Kay, “Johnny always did as much as he could to help the poor and he always gave more than he received. He was a humble man and never wanted praise. He always told me he did what he did because it was want God wanted him to do.”

Johnny is survived by his wife Katherine “Kay” Dahl; sons Dyrk Dahl of Sarasota ,Florida, Jeff Dahl and wife Karla of Eagle Nest; daughter Alixana Buvinghausen and husband Robert of Devine Texas; grandchildren Paul Richmond and wife Jamie, Michelle Tousley and husband Scott, Benjamin Swope, Alyk Dahl, Jordan and Thomas John Buvinghausen; five great-grandchildren; numerous nieces and nephews.

He was preceded in death by his parents, sister Dolores Leslie, and granddaughter Samantha Buvinghausen.

Graveside services with full military honors were held May 19, 2016. There will be a memorial service 2 p.m., Saturday, July 30, at the Northeast Church of Christ, 11,000 Paseo del Norte in Albuquerque.

The family requests donations be given to Albuquerque Christian Children’s Home, 5700 Winter Haven Rd NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120.

5 COMMENTS

  1. I am proud to have had the opportunity to know Mayor Dahl, back in the days when I served as town manager in Taos. He was a member of the intergovernmental council, and very active in seeking funding for the village. He served his community well. Rest in peace, my friend.

  2. I served with Johnny Dahl in the Provost Marshal Office at 2nd Field Force Vietnam Corps Headquarters (not the the 21st Field Force) and as a staff officer he had no command control over troops. That’s not to demean any of Johnny’s accomplishments. He was a great friend and officer. We played a lot of golf most weekends when he was on the school staff while I was a student attending Military Police Officers Advanced course. I was the Company Commander of the 552nd Military Police Company that was the Corps MP company for the 2nd Field Force over which the Provost Marshal had operational control. I also served before Johnny was there at the Central Prisoner of War Camp on Phu Quoc Island where there were 27,000 POW composed of about 16,000 Viet Cong and 11,000 North Vietnamese Regular Army POW. Johnny was the last Senior Advisor of Advisory Team 14 and was there when they released all the POW and closed the camp. Johnny was a good friend and I know will be sorely missed by family and friends. Rest in Peace Johnny – you did your job for your country, community, and family.

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