By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 25 — Some of the last words he sent home revealed a realization of his own mortality in the midst of a controversial war.
“I did not want to come to Vietnam, but since I see how communism works, I’d rather die than see my family or the United States under Communism.”
Army Specialist Emmett Arthur Dougans, at the age of 17, enlisted for active duty on Halloween of 1960. He would spend five years in the U.S. Army, serving in both Europe, and then 11 months before his death — Vietnam.
“I was scared as hell. I have lost my nerve,” he wrote his sister not long before being killed in action, according to a July 21, 1966 issue of the Page News and Courier.
In spite of his natural fear, Dougans would earn an Army commendation for his bravery during an encounter his unit had on April 30, 1966.
“When his unit became heavily engaged by Viet Cong forces, Dougans completely disregarded his personal; safety to pass on attack and maneuver orders. He accompanied his unit as it closed in and destroyed the insurgent force,” reads a report of the incident.
Dougans also earned two Purple Hearts and the Good Conduct Medal during his short military career. During his first enlistment, Dougans served with “The Big Red One” — the U.S. Army’s 1st Infantry Division. When he re-enlisted, Dougans served with the 173rd Airborne Division, 16th Ranger Battalion in Vietnam and went on combat missions during Operation(s) El Paso I and El Paso II.
While engaging hostile forces at the Battle of Suoi Lap at the Minh Thanh Road in the Binh Long Province of South Vietnam, Dougans was killed in action by small arms fire on July 9, 1966. He became the first of five Page County natives killed during the Vietnam War.
Dougans was buried with military rites in the Hillside Cemetery on July 21, 1966 with more than 600 in attendance at the 22-year-old’s funeral.
In honor of his service, Luray resident Doug Frye has been working for two years to have the bridge on Route 675 (Bixler’s Ferry Road) that crosses over Route 211 just west of Luray renamed the “Emmett Arthur Dougans Memorial Bridge.”
“It would be an honor for this to happen for Mr. Dougans and his family,” Frye told county supervisors at their Aug. 4 board meeting. “A lot of men died in Vietnam defending this country.”
That evening, the Page County Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted a resolution supporting the renaming effort.
“…WHEREAS, this Board wishes to memorialize the life and sacrifice of Emmett Arthur Dougans; NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that Page County, in accordance with Section 33.2-213 of the Code of Virginia, does hereby request that the Commonwealth Transportation Board name the bridge on Route 675, Bixler’s Ferry Road, over U.S. Highway 211 West in Page County as the ‘Emmet Arthur Dougans Memorial Bridge’,” the resolution reads.
As part of adopting the resolution, the county “agrees to pay the costs of producing, placing, and maintaining the signs calling attention to this naming.”
In May 2019, the county held a ceremony after the renaming of the bridge on Route 340 over Compton Creek after U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Richard T. Brumback. The Rileyville native volunteered for the Marines more than a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor. On Nov. 1, 1943, he was killed by a Japanese sniper on the island of Bougainville while scouting a position for his platoon in the jungle. He was 25.
In honor of Brumback’s service and with a resolution of support from supervisors, the CTB approved naming Route 340 bridge at Compton the “USMC Sgt. Richard T. Brumback Memorial Bridge.”
The request and resolution supporting the renaming of the bridge on Bixler’s Ferry Road after Dougans now rests with the state’s Commonwealth Transportation Board. If approved, the county plans to hold a ceremony dedicating the new bridge.