Bridge renamed as memorial to Page County veteran killed in Vietnam

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Dougans Bridge dedication 08-05-21
A VDOT employee unveils a new sign on Thursday designating the former Bixler's Ferry Bridge as the Emmett Arthur Dougans Memorial Bridge, as his two granddaughters, daughter and brother look on.

By Randy Arrington

LURAY, Aug. 5 — More than 100 people gathered on Thursday near the former Bixler’s Ferry Bridge that crosses over Route 211 at Luray’s western edge to rededicate and rename the structure in an effort to memorialize a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his country.

“We are not here to name a bridge,” Dr. Morgan Phenix, chairman of the Page County Board of Supervisors, told the large crowd. “We’re here to recognize a sacrifice.”

On July 9, 1966, Emmett Arthur Dougans was killed in action by small arms fire while engaging hostile forces at the Battle of Suoi Lap at the Minh Thanh Road in the Binh Long Province of South Vietnam. He would be the first of five Page County natives killed during the Vietnam War.

As a testament to his character and service, more than 600 attended his funeral on July 21, 1966 as he was laid to rest with military rites in Luray’s Hillside Cemetery. Dougans was only 22.

Enlisting in the Army at the age of 17 on Halloween 1960, Dougans would serve less than six years in the service during two separate enlistments. Yet, during that time he earned two purple hearts and a good conduct medal.

“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 an encounter his unit had on April 30, 1966 — about 10 weeks before his death. For his actions, Dougans would earn an Army commendation for his bravery.

However, despite his bravery, letters home revealed his natural fear of war.

“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. “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.”

Thursday’s ceremony to officially rename the local bridge in Dougans’ honor marked the end of a three-year effort by Luray resident Doug Frye. After not getting enough signatures to support a petition to rename Route 675, Frye worked with Page County Administrator Amity Moler on paperwork to rename the bridge.

On Aug. 4, 2020, the Page County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution to request that the Commonwealth Transportation Board give final approval for the name change.

“I was proud to be able to sign this [resolution],” Chairman Phenix said, “for someone who selflessly sacrificed his own life.”

On Oct. 20, 2020, the CBT adopted its own similarly-worded resolution to make the renaming official.

“When they turned down the road, I almost gave up,” Frye told the crowd on Thursday. “But a friend told me to be patient, and that patience has paid off. For all of you that showed up, you don’t know how proud it makes me feel, as a resident of this town and a veteran of the U.S. military.”

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. He spent the majority of his military service stationed in Europe, before spending the last 11 months in Vietnam.

As Thursday’s event was preparing to get underway, cars poured into the small parking lot near the DMV storage site. License plates from various states could be seen, as the event was coordinated with the New York-Virginia Club annual reunion. Many members of the Dougans family were present for the dedication — and it was easy to see that it meant much more to them than just letters on a road sign.

“I want to thank you all for coming today to recognize someone you probably didn’t even know,” Dougans’ brother John told the crowd. “It takes a village to recognize. And for all you veterans out there…each one of you has a special place in my heart. It’s about serving your country.”

Two of Dougans’ granddaughters shared their appreciation and thanks for the efforts of Frye and Ret. Master Sgt. Melvin C. Tutt for their help in getting the bridge renamed. They presented both men with plaques.

“This is a day in history, we will never forget,” granddaughter Laquita Dougans said as she addressed the crowd.

“It is so good to see this turnout to recognize something that was unsung for so long,” said Tutt, who attended in his full dress uniform. “There are others out there who’s stories haven’t been told yet.”

Dougans’ daughter Deidra reminded those in attendance of the ripple effects that war can have on families.

“Thank you for coming out to honor my father today,” she said. “I really didn’t know him because he died when I was only 5.”

Frye said he simply “had to do something to remember him by” after reading an old newspaper clipping about Dougans’ passing during the Vietnam War. He thanked both the Town of Luray and the county for their approvals “just like that” for the resolution to rename the bridge.

“I’m so glad I could do this,” Frye said as he turned toward the family, “Diedra, for your father, and John, for your brother.”

As a testament to the family’s true patriotism in light of their own circumstances, Dougans’ granddaughter addressed the veterans in attendance at Thursday’s ceremony with a heartfelt message.

“Thank you to all of the veterans that made it back home.”

“We salute you.”



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