BUXTON — Emil “Milt” Dunnell’s grandson has a vivid image of his grandfather walking out into the woods on his 60-acre property with a chain saw balanced on one shoulder and an ax in his other hand.

“He got out of the land as much as he possibly could,” said Brian Dunnell.

He remembers his grandfather cutting down trees for lumber or firewood, tapping the maple trees for sap, and teaching him how to use an ax or build a lean-to.

“He was happiest in the woods,” his grandson said.

Mr. Dunnell died Saturday. He was 91.

A native of Buxton, Mr. Dunnell grew up on his family’s farm. He would wake early for barn chores, such as milking the cows or chopping wood, then head off to school.

Growing up during the Depression, he didn’t have an easy childhood, but Brian Dunnell never heard his grandfather complain.

“Pictures of him, he always had a smile on his face,” his grandson said.

After graduating from Samuel D. Hanson High School, Mr. Dunnell enlisted in the Army. He was on his way home after his honorable discharge when World War II broke out.

When he heard the news, Mr. Dunnell got back on the train and enlisted again, his grandson said.

“He probably would have been drafted again, but he made that conscious choice,” even though he had been away from home for years already, he said.

While Mr. Dunnell never revealed much about his time serving in the South Pacific, he shared more when Brian Dunnell showed interest in his stories.

His grandson remembers Thursday night dinners at his grandparents’ home.

When dinner was over, his grandmother would go off to watch the news, his brother would return home and he would sit and listen to his grandfather’s stories.

“He never made much” of what he saw and did during the war, his grandson said, “but it was clearly something that impacted his life.”

The stories continued to be shared when Brian Dunnell went off to college, in the form of letters. Mr. Dunnell would often pick up where he left off the last time. Some of his letters, several pages long, were about being in the jungles of New Guinea, or how the soldiers hired natives to take them fishing.

“When he’d write stories about the experiences in the war, it was like a whole other person writing,” his grandson said. The war stories were told with much more detail than anything else his grandfather wrote.

His family was always very important to Mr. Dunnell. His son John Dunnell remembers that his father bought him a baseball with the very last dollar the family had, just because he knew that was what his son wanted.

Later, he bought his son a $25 baseball glove. His son said he probably had the best glove in town.

“That was important to him,” he said. “We all came first and he came second.”

Brian Dunnell, who is a teacher working with at-risk high school freshman, often uses his grandfather as an example.

“Sometimes when opportunities will present themselves,” he said, “many people would rather stay safe and take what they know.”

His grandfather, he said, often stepped up for better opportunities, even if he didn’t know what to expect.

Once, for example, when he was working digging a ditch on a cold, rainy day, the foreman approached him and three other workers and asked if anyone was willing to try their hand at finishing concrete because someone had not shown up for the job.

“Out of the four guys, only my grandfather got up out of the mud,” his grandson said. “He wasn’t formally trained but he stepped up.”

“I tell the kids, you’ve got to take risks when opportunities happen,” he said, because it can lead to better things.” 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]