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Veteran woman surprised by gift from Coast Guard Auxiliary

CENTER POINT — Dottie Salisbury never lets an opportunity to undo a wrong pass her by.

It all started at a social event at a local Veterans of Foreign Wars post when a veteran vociferously denied the Coast Guard's equal status as a branch of the armed forces alongside the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

A former communications specialist for the Air Force and history major in college, Salisbury has never taken kindly to injustice or inaccuracy.

"It got me mad and interested enough to do some research," she said. "It's surprising how many people don't realize the Coast Guard is the second oldest service. But the perception of things often can blot out the reality."

She was further incensed when she saw a local memorial wall with four seals for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines, but lacking a fifth to acknowledge the Coast Guard.

"I asked why they'd left it out, but they didn't want to do anything about it," she said.

Founded by Alexander Hamilton in 1790, the Coast Guard is the nation's oldest continuous seagoing service. Today, the Coast Guard has approximately 42,000 men and women on active duty, 7,500 reservists, 30,000 auxiliarists and 7,700 full-time civilian employees, according to the guard's website.

The Coast Guard's legal authority differs from the other four armed services. It operates under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security -- not the U.S. Department of Defense -- but can conduct military operations under the Department of Defense or directly for the President.

The Coast Guard's roles are maritime safety, security and stewardship.

"They've served in every war, under fire," Salisbury said. "They even have a congressional Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously to a guardsman, Douglas Munro, at (the battle of) Guadalcanal transporting Marines between ships and beaches."

For all her support of the Coast Guard, Salisbury received a ship's wheel from members of a local Coast Guard auxiliary on the Fourth of July.

She was busy sweeping the front walkway of the home on Road 2755 she has shared with her husband, Bruce, for more than 40 years when she noticed two men, both dressed in their military blues, emerge from a car.

The men, Robert Hedges and Mark Bixler, greeted Dottie and presented her with a token of their thanks for her efforts on behalf of the auxiliary.

"We were tickled to be able to honor Dottie," said Hedges, who is commander of the auxiliary. "This amazing woman has no problem -- nor motivation -- to speak out. She's such a wonderful woman and vocal supporter of the Coast Guard and the auxiliary. It's the least we could do.

The men presented both the Salisbury couple with certificates of appreciation and gave Dottie Salisbury an antique, wooden ship's wheel, retired from the helm of a decommissioned ship in Coos Bay, Ore.

The couple plan to take the wheel to the San Juan County Fair and to other events to share it with others.

The Salisburys, both Air Force veterans, have been actively engaged in supporting the area's military community their entire adult lives.

They met in 1952 on base in Fort Worth, Texas, shortly after Bruce Salisbury returned home from Korea. They were married three months later and began life as a military family.

After many transfers to bases in multiple states with three children in tow, the Salisburys eventually settled in San Juan County.

"Being the wife of a military man is difficult," said Dottie Salisbury. "Bruce'd be gone a lot, six months or more after only three days' notice. A lot of military families were like that. We didn't have much money, so we stuck together, helped each other as much as we could."

Now in their 80s, the Salisburys continue to connect and support fellow veterans. Both aim to research and recognize veterans who may otherwise go unnoticed.

During a drive in 2007 through the mountains in Colorado near Salida, they noted an unnamed mountain in the San Isabel National Forest surrounded by 33 others, all quizzically named Sheep Mountain.

In a flash, Dottie Salisbury decided the one they saw might be an inspiring monument dedicated to veterans killed-in-action or missing-in-action.

After negotiations with the Colorado Geographic Names Board, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Board of Geographic Names, Mount KIA/MIA, as Dottie Salisbury envisioned it, was made official in October 2007.

"When this woman gets after something, she makes it happen," said Bruce Salisbury. "How many people can say their wife named a mountain? Life is always an inspiring adventure with her."

James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4621 and jfenton@daily-times.com. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.

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