Beyond Veterans Day: Project seeks to record history of local veterans

John “Doc” Daughenbaugh is working with fellow veteran Paula Gregory in compiling a record of the members of the VFW and American Legion from Routt County who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County will take a moment to recognize those who have served as part of Steamboat Springs Veterans Day ceremonies Thursday, but honoring the stories of the men and women who served has become a long-running mission for resident John “Doc” Daughenbaugh.

“It fits really what Veterans Day is all about,” said Jim Stanko, adjutant Routt County veteran service officer. “It’s important to record the history of our veterans.”

Daughenbaugh, a longtime Routt County rancher, started the project more than 10 years ago and joined forces with fellow veteran Paula Gregory a few years back. Together, they have interviewed 75 members of the local VFW and American Legion in an effort to put the men’s and women’s stories on paper.

“A lot of times, veterans won’t talk too much about their service, even with their family or close friends,” Daughenbaugh said. “I started interviewing veterans individually some years ago and just writing brief biographies and saving what I can by writing down their stories.”

He said stories are not long, generally just one to two pages, and he includes pictures of the soldiers in uniform, as well as applicable citations, awards and letters of appreciation.

“I’m not an author. I don’t have plans to publish a book on all this,” Daughenbaugh said. “All that Paula and I are doing is trying to record people’s time in the service, so that those stories are not lost, and their sacrifices and duty that they served our country are preserved so that somebody knows about it.”

The project has become a passion for both Daughenbaugh and Gregory, who have enjoyed talking to the veterans and hearing the stories.

“They run the gamut from the earliest one, Leo Hill, who was Routt County resident who served in World War I. He was killed in action in France, and our (American Legion) post is named after him,” Daughenbaugh said. “Then we have some World War II veterans — some of them we got to visit with in person before they passed, others that we’ve recorded their stories just from doing research and talking to the families. We also have some from Korea, a lot of Vietnam veterans, and we have Iraq and Afghanistan vets, also.”

Gregory lost her dad, who was a veteran, two years ago and has since found value in the project.

“That’s what really started me,” Gregory said. “He wrote his memoirs, and we lost him about two years ago. I just appreciated so much having him write his story down.”

She hopes other families will find the same value she’s had.

“Sometimes, this is the first time these veterans have talked about their service since they got out,” Gregory said. “I think the families might appreciate having just a quick synopsis of what they experienced and what did they do during their time. I like the idea of getting it documented.”

Daughenbaugh said he hopes to finish as much of the project as possible and may provide a copy to the Tread of Pioneers Museum in Steamboat Springs at some point. However, he has no intention of publishing it.

“I didn’t ask anyone to sign a release information form or anything like that. I have no intention of publishing a book,” Daughenbaugh said. “I’m just doing this because it needs to be done.”

Daughenbaugh, who served with the U.S. Marine Corps from 1967 to 1970, said recording the stories is a way to preserve the community’s history.

“The things that our veterans went through, the experiences they’ve had — and I’m not just talking combat — a lot of them are noncombat situations. They have served all over the world in different times and had different experiences, and there are some wonderful stories,” Daughenbaugh said. “These people are the men and women in our community, our next door neighbors, and you would never dream of the things they have done and stuff they have gone through just knowing them casually. I thought somebody needs to write this down and remember what these people done. … There are some remarkable stories, and they are all heroes.”

Centennial for Tomb of the Unknowns

This year, Daughenbaugh joined Hal Matthes, American Legion Post commander, to ring a bell at 11 a.m. Thursday to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the creation of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery near Washington, D.C. Each year on Veterans Day, a wreath is placed on the tomb.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also called Tomb of the Unknowns, contains the remains of an unidentified U.S. soldier from World War I, World War II and the Korean War. They symbolize all Americans who gave their lives in all wars.

The crypt meant for a Vietnam War soldier remains vacant after the remains of the soldier in that space were identified through DNA testing. The crypt was rededicated in 1999 to honor all missing U.S. service members from the Vietnam War.

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