Recently, I met Eric Fritts, Okanogan County’s Veteran Service Officer, and he invited me to stop in to tour the U.S. Armed Forces Legacy Project of Tonasket, WA, on my next trip north.
I have driven past the prestigious site many times, and the red, white, and blue American flag blowing regally in the wind, surrounded by the 5 tall rock pillars representing the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, all encircled by 8 walls of plaques honoring veterans always takes my breath away.
Stepping out of my car, I could not help but feel I was on revered ground. The intimacy of the artwork, the absolute pride of craftsmanship reflected in every piece honoring each branch of the United States military, was so thought out.
Unlike a memorial, a legacy accepts the names of living veterans in addition to those who have died. It is both a project and an organization with the specific purpose of building and maintaining a tribute to America’s past, present, and future veterans.
Its mission is to serve veterans and members of our armed forces by honoring all those who gave, including those who gave their all, on their walls, by housing a military library, and by guiding them and their families through their complicated benefits with the help of a service officer like Eric.
As I walked through the library, I got to overhear Eric helping an older gentleman set up his wellness account online. “What kindergarten did you attend?” Eric asked to set up his profile.
“I didn’t go to kindergarten,” the vet said.
“Well, that explains a lot,” teased his friend.
It was a moment that perfectly illustrated the atmosphere of the legacy, which draws the vets in and makes them comfortable accepting Eric’s expertise and help with navigating their benefits. Eric is a veteran himself, and he helps make them feel at home there.
While walking through the grounds, I met a woman who was tending them meticulously. I learned she was the wife of one of the founders and had served as a nurse in Vietnam. Her pride in the site was quiet but profound.
Thanking her for her service, I asked her what it meant to donate her time to the site. She simply replied, “Healing.”
Health Alliance hopes you enjoy the Fourth of July fireworks, and as you celebrate America’s independence, that you also pause to appreciate the brave and humble men and women who are unselfishly willing to give their all.
Shannon Sims is a Medicare community liaison for Health Alliance, serving Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties in Washington. During her time off she enjoys spending time with her family and riding horses.