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Hot Sulphur: Veteran followed family tradition of service

by Cyndi Palmer
Sky-Hi Daily News
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

Don Dailey, the boy who was born in Kremmling and grew up in Hot Sulphur Springs, returned home a man after serving 21 years in the U.S. Armed Forces.

But about 400 Desert Storm soldiers didn’t come back. Dailey was lucky, he said. A fact that was all too clear as he helped pack up the belongings of three fellow soldiers and read aloud their last letters home.

The military has been a big part of the life of Donald Dailey, a fifth-generation Grand County native. His Uncle Jake Dailey was known for saying, “There’s always been a Dailey in a war, from the Revolutionary War to the War on Terrorism.”

Don’s great grandfathers served in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812, and his great, great grandmother’s sister loaded bullets in the Revolutionary War. His mom’s father, Fred Thompson (also of Grand County), served in World War I doing field artillery for the Army. Don’s dad, Harold served as a Merchant Marine, a water tender on a landing ship transport in the Navy, and was Grand County’s Veteran Services Officer for 25 years. Don’s cousin, also named Donald Dailey, just returned from Afghanistan.

Don was proud to serve, he said, following in the marching footsteps of his family. He enlisted as soon as he turned 18 in 1974.

“I was part of Richard Nixon’s (volunteer army),” he said. “They said it’d never work and we proved ’em wrong.”

He served during the Persian Gulf War I, Operation Desert Storm, in tech supply for the 586th Maintenance Company, and returned home as a Sergeant, First Class.

During that time, he received numerous awards, including two Meritorious Service Medals. He was also twice named non-commissioned officer of the month while stationed at the Pentagon and was chosen to carry the Colorado flag during Ronald Reagan’s second presidential inauguration.

Don took the call for his unit to ship out to Saudi Arabia. Operation Desert Storm, known to some as the 100-Day War, lasted less than a year, from August 1990 to June 1991.

“It was a very well-organized war to liberate Kuwait,” he said. “Then the Iraqis would overthrow Saddam, or at least that was the plan.”

Basic training was at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, then Don went to Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Bliss in Texas for air defense artillery skill development. After his first tour as a HAWK (Homing All the Way Killer) missile battery crewman.

During his 21 years of service, Don traveled in Germany for three tours, Korea, Saudi Arabia, Holland, France and Luxembourg, but his best assignment was in Turkey, he said. The town Sinop by the Black Sea reminded him of Shadow Mountain Reservoir near his home in Grand Lake. He’s got some good memories. His most memorable moment was receiving his very first award, an Army Commendation Medal at Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, “even though it’s not my highest award.”

The fight left Don after he was seriously injured while serving, leaving him now 60-percent disabled and still fighting for compensation. He was the Convoy Commander sitting in the passenger side of the lead vehicle, a five-ton tractor with trailer that was hit from behind. The collision threw 100 tons of supplies his way and his shoulders, back and hands have never recovered from the impact.

“I’ve had some chinks in my armor, you could say.”

His feet also now bother him, “from all that marchin’ and runnin’ I had to do,” he said. “I had the hell knocked out of me. That’s why I act the way I do. I was one heck of a soldier, but one lousy civilian now.”

He said the road is long after a tour of duty, turning from civilian to soldier and then back to civilian. With the constant commands of “High speed, high stress, and short suspense” and “Shoot, move, communicate,” Don said it can be difficult getting used to life back at a slower pace.

Web sites http://www.military.com and http://www.vetfriends.com keep Don in touch with his fellow soldiers. He also remains active with Grand County veteran events.

He has several pieces of advice for anyone thinking of fulfilling their patriotic duty and serving in the Armed Forces. “If you are ever injured in a war, don’t go be a hero,” he said. “Go to the medic. … And above all else, take care of each other and yourself.”

People need to remember that freedom is not free, he said. To other servicemen who have served, he is very appreciative. “Thanks for your service, sacrifice and dedication to your duties. I’m proud of not only my service but their service as well ’cause we all have stories to tell.”


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