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RANGELY | Saturday marks a day of honoring and celebrating veterans of the U.S. military and their service to the nation. The day will bring both a time of commemoration and reflection for those who have donned the uniform. These men and women, who can be found all over Rangely, are quietly continuing on with their lives as civilians and contributing to their community in many ways.
For Army veteran and current town council member Lisa Hatch, Veterans Day is about reverence and gratitude.
“Veterans Day is a day to truly thank a vet and think about why we’re free,” she said. “Without the arms of a vet we wouldn’t be the country we are.”
Hatch served in the Army Reserves from 1980 until her retirement in 2001, including a tour during Desert Storm. She joined right out of high school, seeking a way to serve both her country and continue to help her family, finding that the Army Reserves allowed her to do both. For Hatch, basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., was a wonderful time where she excelled in leadership and fitness. In fact, Hatch said she enjoyed basic training so much that she didn’t want to leave upon completion.
For the next 10 years Hatch met her duties to the Reserve program, climbing the ranks until becoming first female commander of the 419th Petroleum Transportation Unit. In November 1990, Hatch and her unit were deployed first to Saudi Arabia and then Iraq. For six months they hauled jet fuel for armored cavalry. Hatch describes the experience as both challenging and worthwhile. As a female commander Hatch experienced intentional road blocks and threats by those who were upset about a woman in a combat leadership role. She also describes the heartbreak of coming upon fleeing Iraqi families, often with starving or injured children, to which Hatch would request humanitarian aid.
“I never knew if they lived, if they aid got there,” she said.
During her time in Desert Storm Hatch’s unit was exposed to various harmful chemicals including low doses of nerve agent which she says caused major medical issues for the returned soldiers. She estimates that around 40 percent of her unit are no longer alive, succumbing to blood and respiratory diseases and suicide.
Despite the hardships, Hatch is clearly honored to have served her country and says she would do it all over again. “Living in this country is a God given inheritance,” she said. “This country, our Constitution, was inspired by God.”
For Veterans of Foreign Wars, the local VFW Mark G Danielson Post 5261 can be an invaluable opportunity to share stories and support. Post Commander Mike Gillard said, “I would highly encourage any other veteran that is or has served overseas during wartime to come join us at our monthly meetings and take part in the celebration of comradeship we have with each other as brothers and sisters of our nation’s wars and to help support each other in our times of need.”
Lisa Hatch also encourages vets to get involved in the VFW. “It helps you find other people you can talk to who understand war,” she said.
Post 5261 gets its name from Rangely graduate Mark G. Danielson. In 1972, while serving in Vietnam, the plane that Danielson was aboard was shot down over Laos and he was declared missing in action. In 1994, the U.S. Air Force announced that they had identified tooth fragment remains of Danielson and 11 others who had gone missing with him. The remains were buried in Arlington National Cemetery. However, according to Gillard there is some question as to the nature of those remains.
“Back in those days when you were shot down the enemy was known to have tracked you down and the first thing they would do is hit you in the mouth with the butt of their weapon, knocking your teeth out,” he said. Mark’s mom, Ruth Danielson, who passed away in 2002, believed that Mark was still alive. “There was later found a photo of a former staff sergeant still alive in Laos being held captive in 2004 from the same gunship,” said Gillard.
The Danielson Post currently has 28 active members ranging from veterans of the most recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to one World War II veteran, and every war between. However, according to Gillard, there are more vets out there.
“There are nearly 65 to 70 former military, at my best guess, in Rangely. Rio Blanco County has one of the highest former military rates out of all the other counties in Colorado,” he said.
The VFW is involved in numerous activities throughout the year including an annual booth at Septemberfest and Poppy Drive. They’ve also raffled off a rifle to help raise funds for local veterans. Gillard says all the funds they raise go directly back to the local veterans to do things like purchase flags for the elementary school and at memorial sites around town. They also pay for new membership dues and uniforms that members wear for funeral services and parades or activities.
Gillard hopes people will take time on Saturday to remember the veterans all around them.
“Be thoughtful and take time to reach out and tell local veterans thank you for your service. I came home from Iraq to flags waving and crowds cheering, but for our local Vietnam veterans that just wasn’t that way it was for most of them,” he said. “These are some of the greatest men I know. Some of them volunteered and some of them were drafted but they are the one percent of our country who have given more than just their time and sacrifice. A simple thank you goes a long way.” He also suggests people consider the families of veterans as well. “Their families have sacrificed so much more for the love of their country.”
The Rangely VFW meets the second Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Rec Center and can be followed on Facebook as Mark G Danielson Post 5261.