A dairy farmer Marine

Griffin remembers service in 1970s Japan


ROCHESTER, Minn. — According to the Selective Service System, in 1971, 94,092 men were drafted into the military. That same year, a young dairy farm boy from Rochester, who had never been farther from home than South Dakota, enlisted with the United States Marine Corp.

The dairy farmer was Dan Griffin, and he was ready to see the world. Newly graduated from high school, he knew he wanted to dairy farm, he said, but he told his dad he wanted to travel first. 

“He understood that part of it,” Griffin said. “He went through eight years of school here at the schoolhouse — that was his entire (education) — and then he started farming as a 14-year-old with his dad.”

Now, years later, Griffin said he wonders how his parents felt about his decision. Shortly before he enlisted, one of his cousins stepped on a land mine in Vietnam and almost died, not a positive endorsement for enlisting in the military. 

By October 1971, Griffin was whisked away to basic training in San Diego, California, alongside his friend Dennis O’Neill, who had enlisted with him.

At basic training, the Marines determined Griffin was to become a Remington Raider, which was slang for an office clerk.  

After additional training at Camp Pendleton, also in California, Griffin was sent to a base in Iwakuni, Japan. 

Griffin said approximately 305 people were stationed at Iwakuni. He lived in Block 8, an old prison, where he shared a room with seven men. During the day, he worked as a files and mail clerk, served as driver for the colonel and did other administrative work. 

The Iwakuni base was an area originally purchased by the Japanese government in 1938 and became an air base for training and defense in 1940. The base changed hands after World War II. During the Korean War, it served as a processing center for troops entering Korea. Jets stationed there supported frontline troops daily. It became a solely U.S. base in the early 1950s, and in 1956, the base was enlarged.

Though Griffin was in the Marines during the Vietnam War, he did not face combat. His only contact with Vietnam was doing courier mail runs there in a C130 airplane and processing military members who were leaving.

“You checked them back in and shifted them back home or whatever,” Griffin said. “I saw a lot of messed up guys there.”

Griffin was awarded several honors at Iwakuni. There, he qualified as an expert rifle, the highest shooting and marksmanship level he could reach.

He also was recognized as Marine of the Month twice during his stint, an honor he modestly attributes to the fact he was working directly with Colonel Donald J. “DJ” McCarthy, a man who would eventually command the entire Iwakuni base from 1983-86. 

As a reward for being named Marine of the Month, he received two rest and relaxation trips to Korea. 

Griffin was promoted to corporal in August of 1973, less than two years after going through basic training. 

In the town of Iwakuni, Griffin found his personal choice for the best BLT sandwiches in the world. On one of the narrow streets filled with the stench of the raw sewage which ran down the roadway, he found an unassuming little restaurant. Inside, the shop was dark, with seating for about 10. At the counter, he ordered a giant number of BLT take-out orders for him and his friends back at the base. From his years in Japan, he still craves fried rice and fried-rice omelets.

The Iwakuni base was located approximately 25 miles southwest of Hiroshima, so Griffin had the opportunity to visit. It still looked war-torn, as less than 30 years had passed since the atomic bomb had been dropped there. Skeletons of buildings and destruction stood as a reminder of the world-changing event. 

“Even at the time I was there, I didn’t feel like it was comfortable to be an American in Japan,” Griffin said. 

On the base, the farm boy was always keeping himself busy above and beyond his full-time work. He served as a waiter in an on-base restaurant, and he often took a duty shift in exchange for cash from a Marine who wanted to have a night on the town.

“I wish I would have gone a lot more places,” Griffin said. “Instead of taking somebody else’s duty, I wish I would have gone and done something myself.”

After being honorably discharged in late 1973, Griffin began dairy farming again while also attending Rochester Community College — now Rochester Community and Technical College — for auto mechanics. He met his wife, Faye, through college, and they married in 1975.

In the late 1970s into the 1980s, the couple began to establish themselves as they slowly developed and bought into the Griffin family farm.

Being a young dairy farmer in the 1980s was not easy.

“We were paying 22% interest on an operating note,” Griffin said. “How I did it, I’ll never know.”

The Griffins did not go on vacation for about 10 years. For their 10th wedding anniversary, they spent 24 hours in the Twin Cities as their celebration.

The Griffins prevailed over the hard times and kept dairy farming, carrying on the legacy of their family farm, which has been in existence since 1883.

In 2007, their son Kevin joined the farm, and in 2019, they sold the milk cows and focused on other farming operations. 

Today, a Marine flag flies off of Griffin’s porch, and, together with Kevin, Griffin farms around 500 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa. Kevin has meat and dairy goats, chickens and grass-fed Red Angus. Griffin also owns several Red Angus and has one dairy heifer, a descendant of his dairy herd.

As a veteran, Griffin has seen a switch over time in sentiment toward veterans. 

“There were an awful lot of people who never went in the military who weren’t happy with Vietnam-era veterans,” he said. 

Today, Griffin said, he sees all veterans being celebrated for their time in the military.


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