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Retired Army Master Sgt. Theresa Williams talks Monday about the dogtag that has her mother’s thumbprint engraved on it. (Briana Alzola / Anacortes American)

Within his first two days in Baghdad, just out of sniper school, Jeremy Carter survived gunfire that killed everyone around him and then had to help fellow soldiers after the vehicle they were riding in was blown off a cliff. That’s when he learned about service to his country.

Master Sgt. Theresa Williams wears a dog tag around her neck with her mother’s thumbprint engraved on it. It’s a reminder to keep going, no matter what happens, she said.

Melody Young recently attended a convention of Medal of Honor recipients in honor of her father, medal recipient Gerald Young, who died in 1990. While there, she heard remarkable stories of heroism and service, but most recipients think their fellow soldiers who fell while serving their country deserve the accolades more.

These stories of people who served their country are the stories that helped build the American Legion, said the legion’s Veteran Service Officer Wally Garland. Those stories first started coming from the “ashes of the war to end all wars,” World War I, he said. And they haven’t stopped.

As he looked out at the several dozen people seated at the legion’s annual Veterans Day dinner, he encouraged everyone to look around them, to find someone who had served and to ask their story. Everyone has one, and they are what connects the people of this country.

“For us veterans service officers, the stories are the biggest perk of our job,” Garland said. “Every single woman and man who served did so for a reason. Ask them why.”

That connection helps community members understand what veterans went through, as well as giving the veterans a chance to connect.

“In each other, we find community,” he said.

Garland shared some stories of veterans across the country, people he called “the exceptional and the extraordinary.”

The American Legion is celebrating its 100th year this year.

“We’re here tonight to honor our heroes,” Garland said. “If you look around, you will be awed by the enormity of what you encounter.”

During the program, several speakers shared their own stories.

Carter shared some harrowing tales of his time in the armed forces. He has been in the military for 15 years, 10 of them active duty. He is now a recruiter for the National Guard.

He said that he served his country, but it’s nothing compared to others.

“I don’t feel that what I’ve done can measure up to the people who came before me,” he said.

Williams served 23 years with the U.S. Army. She is retired from the combat signal corps and now helps training veterans service officers for the American Legion.

She took a moment to highlight the women of the armed forces. People talk of the “brotherhood,” but every time in history, there have been sisters fighting, too, she said.

It’s important to think about what those women endured and what they sacrificed.

Those sisters who came before showcase the importance of perseverance, Williams said.

Young talked about visiting a Medal of Honor convention and meeting Marine Corps Col. Hershel Williams, who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

Looking over at her mom at the dinner, she thanked not only the veterans, but their spouses and families who supported them while they served their country.

The dinner was free for attendees and was paid for by donations from community groups. The Anacortes First Baptist Church donated the space, and a team of volunteers to help set up, serve the food and clean up. Legion veteran service officers Matt McKay and Jennifer Forney led the cooking.

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