GARRETT — A well-decorated military veteran was honored by Garrett High School students, staff and the community at Friday’s 2019 Garrett Distinguished Wall of Honor program in the Performing Arts Center and during halftime on Memorial Field.
Retired U.S. Army Colonel Douglas Fraze, a member of the Garrett High School Class of 1962, shared his experiences in the military, having been drafted into the U.S. Army and sent into action in Vietnam in 1965. Junior class member Devin Sheets introduced Fraze to the student body during a program Friday morning.
Fraze told students he was at the bottom of his class for grades, and his college career was short-lived due to poor grades, as well. Having lost college deferment, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. He credited classmate Jerry Thomas for joining the reserves that moved him up the list at the draft board.
Fraze returned to civilian life two years and worked second shift at General Electric Company in Fort Wayne, ending his nights at a bar while his wife was at home with an infant child.
But 88 days later, an ultimatum from his wife, and Garrett classmate Carol (Fleet) to either reenlist or the marriage was over sent him back to the military for a stellar career for the next 28 years.
Serving in the military was last thing Fraze thought he would be doing in his life, but it turned out to be a “total surprise and an honor.” Through years of training, reassignments and promotions, Fraze and his family moved 23 times, once four times in a year.
Each move was both a blessing and a curse, but he saw them as stepping stones to his next assignment.
Fraze said growing up in Garrett was also a blessing.
“There was not a thing we couldn’t do,” listing the Garrett pool, tennis courts, playing winter football in the snow on the field. He recalled breaking a street lamp as a kid and when he got home, his parents already heard of his misdeed three times from neighbors and friends. The entire school heard of the incident the next day through the party line on the telephone.
While stationed in Thailand, his wife witnessed a street vendor spraying DDT to keep bugs from landing on meat hanging in the shop — no more harmful than following the mosquito truck on his bike on a summer night in Garrett, he added.
Fraze said growing up in Garrett was instrumental to his career — first of all meeting his future wife in Paul Batemen’s freshman biology class. Teachers who helped him along the way including Mary Mellott, Kenneth Richardson and Richard Smith — all provided a basic knowledge of English and how to effectively use it. Richard Capin, through geometry, introduced logical thought necessary in so many analytical products. Virgil Finchum taught Civics and Government which were the foundation for all political-military studies. Last, but not least, were summer swim classes which led to Underwater Ops school and the Underwater Ops detachment led by Capin.
Students didn’t have anyone from the military share information with students while he was in high school.
“We didn’t know what they offered. I had no idea I would be able to do the things I did – all a surprise when (classmate) Jerry Thomas jumped ship,” he said. “There are things you don’t know anything about. And you don’t need to know what you want to do when you graduate,” he told students Friday.
Just be open to whatever might come your way.
Fraze is the first member from the Class of 1962 to be included on the Distinguished Wall of Honor. He and his wife reside in Wasilla, Alaska.
Principal Matt Smith told students the purpose of the Distinguished Wall of Honor is to recognize and honor graduates, both living and dead, who have brought honor to the school and to the community, and to hold them up as role models.
Criteria for selection requires nominees be a Garrett High School graduate, living or deceased; at least 10 years must elapse since graduation and eligibility; and must have made an impact or contribution in one of three areas: civic/patriotic service; humanitarian or professional field.
A five-member committee reviews nominations. They include Katrina Custer, Skip Claxton, Linda DePew, Lena Yarian, Dr. Dan Weimer and Ryan Hathaway. Since 2010, 37 Garrett graduates have been honored.