Vets take day to remember

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Elmer Fogg Jr., Army, World War II. George Hart, Army. Ray Lam, Navy, stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas, where he taught radar technology. Al Ligons, Tuskegee Airmen. Lyle Richens, Army, fought at Normandy. Wayne Swanson, Army Reserves. Gene Serhant, Army Air Corp., World War II.

These are military veterans who live at the Doak Walker Care Center in Steamboat Springs. They are members of "The Greatest Generation," as local American Legion commander Jim Stanko called them Friday at a coffee-hour visit, and they are a dwindling few.

Some of them, such as Al Ligons, suffer from lingering ailments that take away the ability to speak, to tell their stories. But in the firm grip of Ligons' hand and the twinkle of his eye, the man who served with the Tuskegee Airmen can clearly be seen.

A group of black pilots who flew for the Army Air Corps in World War II, the Airmen fought with distinction in North Africa and across Europe. On Friday morning in an activity room at Doak Walker, sitting in a wheelchair beneath a blanket, Ligons gripped the honorary plaques given to him by Stanko and other local veteran leaders with a steady hand. The plaques thanked all the veterans for their service, each by name, and commemorated their accomplishments. Ligons looked at his with a serene gaze that made words unnecessary.

Gene Serhant, 90, reached the rank of sergeant with the Army Air Corps, serving from 1942 to 1945. While he was never deployed overseas, he has vivid memories of those who were.

"My brother got in the service 14 months before I did," Serhant said. His brother's name is Franklyn Serhant. "He was in the Battle of the Bulge, in combat for six days. He got wounded twice. The first time, he woke up in a hospital in London. They sent him back to the front, and he was wounded again his first day back."

"That's the fortunes of war," added Serhant, who was born in 1915 in Cleveland. He was 27 years old when he was drafted. At the time, Serhant was making $5,000 a year as a Woolworth's store manager.

"That was big money," he said. "If I hadn't been drafted, I think I would have enlisted. It was our country we were fighting for."

Yampa resident Doug Werner, 57, visited with Doak Walker vets, as well. He was drafted for the Vietnam War in 1968. He served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army, 7th Squadron, 17th Combat Aviation Group -- an infantry and helicopter squadron, he said, from November 1968 to November 1969.

Werner's memories of that time came in hesitant bursts.

"Fear. I was scared. The smell. Comradeship," he said. "I served with some great people."

The smell, he said, has not left him.

"You don't want to know (what it was like)," Werner said. "It was burning (waste) with diesel fuel. If I smell burning trash or diesel, it brings it back. Any Vietnam vet will say the same thing."

Werner was born and raised in Steamboat and is a life member of the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. He is also commander of the honor guard for local veteran memorial services. Werner's son, Pfc. Aaron Werner, 22, is in the U.S. Army Ranger School at Fort Benning, Ga. He has served one tour of duty in Iraq.

"I was worried (when he left)," Doug Werner said. "But at the very least, I knew he was a lot better trained than I ever was."

Werner knows that, unlike the veterans at Doak Walker, his son's time of service is not nearly over.

"When he gets to be a full-fledged Ranger, he figures on at least three more deployments," Werner said. "But we won't know until it happens."

Routt County Veterans Aff--airs Officer Michael Condie said there are about 1,800 veterans in Routt County.

Friday was a day for all of them.

-- To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4203

or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com

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