Growing up in rural Renville County, Leonard Dolezal certainly had his share of time spent working with machines.
In fact, he took time off after graduating from the eighth grade and stayed at home to help serve as a mechanic for the family farm.
That experience would serve Dolezal well after he returned and graduated from high school.
“In 1945 right after I graduated from high school I joined the Merchant Marines,” said Dolezal.
Dolezal, who already had several brothers serving in the military, also had a second cousin who had found a niche on board ships serving with the Merchant Marines.
“My second cousin Frank Dolezal came home on a vacation and told me all about it,” said Dolezal.
Soon after, he was in Brooklyn, N.Y. at “boot camp” learning the ins and outs of his new role. “We were right on the ocean. The Coast Guard had a training camp next to us.”
After graduating from his boot camp experience, Dolezal found himself on board a cargo ship as an oiler heading for Italy.
The oiler, he explained, ensured the machinery for the huge engines on the ship were well lubricated and cooled to make sure they continued to run right.
Dolezal admitted getting a bit sick on that first voyage across the Atlantic, but added after a while “you get used to it.”
Dolezal rose through the ranks in the Merchant Marines and served time with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coast Guard aboard their ships working in the engine rooms helping to ensure everything ran right.
The U.S. Merchant Marines is a unique entity in that it can and does serve roles in the public and private sector. Dolezal actually served onboard ships with the U.S. Army and the U.S. Coast Guard, and hauled for commercial groups shipping everything from grain to fish.
He also often was on ships that hauled ammunition and troops, as he was in the Merchant Marines during the post-World War II days, as well as during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
When he retired, Dolezal had earned the rank of chief engineer, which meant not only being responsible for the operations of the ship but also for the crew of people who ran and maintained the engines.
Serving until 1975, Dolezal said he saw the world many times, adding he never really liked crossing the oceans, especially during bad weather.
He enjoyed many places, but said he really liked the time spent in the Caribbean.
Once on a trip across the Pacific Ocean the rudder of the ship Dolezal was working on broke, which put the crew on the mainland for a long period of time.
Page 2 of 2 - “We had to stay in Hawaii,” he said. “It was sure nice there, but boy was it expensive.”
Dolezal said he also saw time in Alaska, adding in those cases when the tanker ships he was on board would haul oil they would not even get to the shore.
“There would be a line we had to hook up to out in the bay,” he said.
Dolezal said he saw some pretty remarkable things over the 30 years he served, including seeing a water system for Bombay, India made entirely out of wood, and during one stopover in Thailand they were there so long grass began to grow on the hull.
In most years, Dolezal said he spent up to six months at sea, and he said he very much enjoyed those years serving in the Mer-chant Marines.
Having already been involved with the farming operation, Dolezal’s transition to complete civilian life was an easy one.
Several certificates of honor hang on the walls of Dolezal’s home telling a brief tale of his years of service with the Merchant Marines.
His stories of life at sea are ones Dolezal cherishes, as he smiles as each new story begins. Yes, it was a Merchant Marine’s life, and it was a good one.