Inside the Northwoods Navy connection
For Dennis Lindgren and his grandson, Darrin Bell, the USS Michael Murphy will always hold a special place in their hearts. And in a big way this newly commissioned, 509-foot naval destroyer ship will perform its duty in keeping America free thanks to the hard toil of Rhinelander laborers who build parts for the United States military.
Dennis is one of those laborers. He’s been an employee of Oldenburg Group for 23 years, 13 of those at the Lakeshore complex that is located in Rhinelander. A metal fabricating operation, Dennis started his career at Oldenburg as a welder and now serves as an inventory specialist. But it was a nonchalant placement of an entry form into a company sponsored contest that made Dennis realize just how important his work, along with all his colleagues, is in keeping America safe.
The prize in this contest was a VIP trip for two to Maine to attend the christening of the USS Michael Murphy. “I filled out the entry form but really didn’t think much about it because I never win anything,” said Dennis. “In fact I kind of forgot about it after I entered the contest.”
And then one day a couple of weeks later Dennis was out on a forklift performing his duties at Oldenburg when he heard his name called over the intercom system announcing that he had won the trip. “I was totally flabbergasted,” he said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Naturally Dennis wanted to share his good news and called his wife Jean, explaining all the perks of this prize which would include a trip in a private jet, fine dining and luxurious accommodations. But Jean had other ideas. “I told Dennis I thought our grandson Darrin would get more out of it,” she said. “He’s just at the right age to enjoy a trip like this.”
Dennis agreed and told Jean to call Darrin to see if he would like to go. That call alone was worth Dennis winning the trip according to Jean. “I called Darrin and explained that his Papa had won this trip and then told him ‘guess who’s going?'” she said with a smile. Darrin admits he was over-the-moon with excitement when his grandma gave him the news. “I couldn’t believe that I would be the one going with Papa,” he said. “It was like a dream come true.”
Darrin, who lives in Green Bay and is in the eighth grade, is a frequent visitor to his grandparents’ home in Rhinelander. He spends lots of his summer vacation here and many weekends during the school year. Dennis and Jean have an especially close tie with this effervescent teen. “Until he was about six years old I babysat him,” said Jean. “Darrin is a very special young man to us.”
Along with Dennis and Darrin, other Oldenburg group employees would also be attending the christening ceremony, along with president of the company Tim Nerenz. Oldenburg has branches in Iron River and Kingsford, Michigan, Claremont, N.H. and in Milwaukee.
And so the group boarded a private jet in Iron Mountain and flew to Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport and then drove to Bath, Maine where the christening ceremony would take place. That night for supper Darrin would come face to face with his first lobster. “I didn’t even know how to eat one,” he laughed. “They put the whole thing on my plate. I couldn’t figure out how to cut into it.”
But his fellow travelers helped him figure it out and it was at this meal the group formed a close bond. “All the people on this trip were just wonderful,” said Darrin, who was the youngest participant. “They were the nicest people.”
The next day the group toured the Bath Iron Works complex where ships of every caliber are built and launched. This is also where the USS Michael Murphy was constructed and was waiting for the christening ceremony. Dennis was overwhelmed to see this big ship and know that he, and his colleagues had a hand in its construction. “Oldenburg was instrumental in the construction of the parts for the davit on this ship,” he said. “These are big cranes that are used for loading and unloading such things as life rafts, supplies and other materials. These new ships are built with special components that can be undetectable under radar situations. Oldenburg was the only company that was able to deliver this kind of machinery.”
Darrin was also impressed. “It was the biggest ship I have ever seen,” he gushed. But this youngster was also impressed with the story of the USS Michael Murphy and did quite a bit of research before traveling to Maine to learn all he could about the ship’s namesake. He learned that Murphy died a hero fighting a group of Taliban insurgents on a rocky mountainside in Afghanistan’s Kunar Province in 2005. This Navy SEAL was fighting in Operation Freedom when he and three of his men came under heavy fire during a reconnaissance mission. They had rappelled down a mountainside from a helicopter at night to observe a village where a group of Taliban insurgents, known as the Mountain Tigers, were located. The four came across three goat herders and were put into the moral dilemma of letting them go or killing them. Murphy choose to let them go. It is unclear whether they were Taliban sympathizers but shortly after their release the group of SEALS found themselves fired upon by more than 100 Taliban soldiers using AK-47 assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades.
Murphy was shot in the stomach early in the firefight but ignored the wound and continued to kill dozens of Taliban attackers. All the men were wounded when Murphy decided drastic action was needed after finding out the team’s radio was out of commission. He took his own satellite phone and stepped out into a clearing where he could get a signal. This opened up his cover and he was fired upon repeatedly but completed his call. Murphy died from his wounds, along with two of his fellow SEALS leaving only one survivor who also would have perished if not for the bravery of Murphy.
It was Murphy’s mother, Maureen, who christened the ship during the ceremony attended by the Oldenburg group. Even young Darrin was touched by the emotion, and significance, of the event. “I was inspired by the story of Michael Murphy when I read it” said Darrin. “He was a very brave man.”
Others thought so too, and the christening of the new ship was attended by dignitaries from all across the country including Chief of Naval Operations Gary Roughead; the ships commander, Thomas E. Schulz and even firefighters from New York City, a group Murphy held in high regard especially after 9/11.
Darrin, who is a very dapper dresser, came face to face with some of these dignitaries the morning of the ceremony as he made his way from the hotel room to get some breakfast. “Five Navy admirals complimented me on my outfit,” Darrin said proudly. “They told me I really looked sharp.” “Yeah, you should have seen the grin on his face when he told me that,” Dennis laughed.
And Darrin continued to come across new experiences even on the jet ride home. It has always been this young man’s dream to become a pilot and on the flight from Maine back to Michigan the pilot invited him to sit in the co-pilot’s seat. “Oh my gosh I couldn’t believe it!” he exclaimed. “What an experience that was.”
And while both Dennis and Darrin came away from the trip with plenty of new experiences and memories that will last a lifetime, Dennis in particular realized just how important the work done in Rhinelander is in keeping America free. “When I saw the equipment and parts that Oldenburg employees had made for this ship I was really touched,” he said. “To know that we were part of this was really impressive. It made me really proud.”