Fitness, discipline and trust. Those are three characteristics exemplified by members of the armed services highlighted by retired U.S. Army Col. Marshall Dougherty at the annual Red River Valley Veterans Day Service on Sunday.
Fitness applies to more than just physical strength, Dougherty said, as it applies to a person’s emotional, mental and spiritual toughness.
“It’s an important aspect to be ready to do what we need to do, given the nature of the business, the nature of the missions and its inherent risk,” he said. “And by fitness, I don’t just mean the individual fitness, but the fitness of the whole team.”
For Dougherty, discipline means doing what’s right and needs to be done, even when it’s hard or dangerous, and not doing it in the expectation of receiving an award or commendation.
“You’re miserable, you’re tired and nobody’s watching. You just get it done,” he said.
And for Dougherty, the foundation of trust has a simple definition: It’s when others know that you mean what you say and you say what you mean.
“They trust in your moral character, your professional competence and your expert judgement,” he said. “You’re a part of the team.”
During Dougherty’s time in the Army, he was always surrounded by and working with people who embodied those three traits. He recalled a time when he saw soldiers demonstrate those three characteristics in action, staging a rescue mission after an allied helicopter was shot down.
“We knew that the enemy was moving towards that downed helicopter, and we knew that his platoon would have to secure the site for at least 24 hours,” he said.
Enemy soldiers made it to the downed American soldiers and laid siege. However, the Americans were able to fight them off for the next 24 hours without rest or heavy artillery.
“They were tenacious. They held on. They did what they needed to do,” he said.
Dougherty also spoke about the role played by service members’ families. As he put it, his daughter, now in her 20s, doesn’t have many memories of a time he wasn’t deployed to fight somewhere.
“When I think about our veterans, I can’t help but think about our veterans’ families,” he said. “The spouses, kids, siblings back on the homefront while their loved ones are in harm’s way.”
He remembered looking at a group of children on a military base playground when a 21-gun salute was fired to honor fallen soldiers, many of whom were the parents of the children playing. The children stopped playing, immediately fell to attention and faced the chapel. Some put their hands over their heart and others saluted, as they’d seen their parents do.
“To me, this is the perfect example of how deeply the experiences of a veteran is woven throughout the fabric of the family,” Dougherty said.
Also during the service, the Red River Valley Veterans honored two local veterans, George Williams and Wesley Graum, with Quilts of Valor. Williams, who served in the Air Force during World War II, passed away Oct. 27. His quilt was received by his wife Virginia Williams and daughter Susan Williams.
“He would have been so surprised, this would have meant the world to him,” Susan Williams said after the ceremony. “We’re so thankful that they honored him this way.”
Graum served two stints in the Navy, said George Wood, board chairman of the Red River Valley Veterans Memorial. During Graum’s first tour of duty, during World War II, he patrolled for Japanese ships in Alaskan waters. Graum, who turned 100 earlier this year, said he was surprised by the honor.
Quilts of Valor is a national foundation that provides patriotic quilts to veterans. With thousands of chapters across the United States, over 200,000 veterans have received quilts through the program since its inception in 2003, local quilter Lynn Hendrex said.
The Love Civic Center was filled to standing room only on Sunday, and local veteran Johnny Williams said roughly 350 people turned out for the service, more than in years past.
“I’m just tickled by today’s turnout,” he said. “This is a bit more than we usually get, which is fantastic, and I just think it’s due to it being talked about more, and more people finding out about it on social media.”
“We need to remember our veterans,” Wood said. “Freedom isn’t free; it was paid for by the sacrifices made by our veterans, and that’s not something we should forget.”