Serving those who served

Longtime Veterans' Service Officer Bill Frye to be honored

Craig resident Bill Frye has been fighting nearly all of his life.

When he was 15, he enlisted in the Army to fight in World War II. He came full circle 49 years later when he was appointed to fight for the rights and benefits of the veterans of Moffat County.

Eighteen years ago, the Moffat County commissioners appointed Frye to a two-year term as the county veterans' service officer.

"It's been a long two years," he said.

And now, at 81 years old, Frye is ready to quit fighting and start relaxing.

His last day as the county veterans' service officer will be Feb. 28.

"I've got to have a little time to call my own," he said.

For 18 years, Frye's done a job he loves, working with and for people he loves. Now he plans to pursue another one of his passions -- fishing -- something a sign in his office proclaims "isn't a matter of life and death, it's more important than that."

"My truck doesn't go anywhere without my fishing pole," he said.

And Frye doesn't go anywhere without his trademark suspenders, patterned with fish.

A carpenter by trade, Frye started working for the county after his first retirement to supplement his social security income.

Frye's job is to sift through paperwork finding grants and filing claims for the more than 2,000 Moffat County veterans and their families. He talks to an average of 25 people a month in Moffat County and also lends a helping hand to vets in Rio Blanco County.

"There is help out there, you just have to hunt for it," Frye said.

He's worked hard to find those benefits for some, going all the way to Washington, D.C. for some veterans' benefits.

When he started the job, $200,000 in veterans' pensions and benefits came into Moffat County. In 2001, Frye calculate the monetary impact of his job at $3,980,000.

Then he hits the road.

Frye drives nearly 20,000 miles a year taking veterans to Denver or Grand Junction for medical services.

He's well recognized for the service he provides. The walls of his office are lined with appreciation plaques.

In 1996, Frye earned the Louis Nardine award for outstanding service to veterans and their families. In 1996 and 2001, he was named Service Officer of the Year for his dedication, expertise and commitment to providing services and guidance to veterans and their families and for helping to secure their entitlements and improve their benefits, health care and quality of life.

In 1986, he earned an appreciation award from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and, in 1991, he was named an honorary member of the governor of Tennessee's staff for taking a disabled man hunting.

That man was the Tennessee governor.

He was paralyzed and wanted to hunt.

"I put him on a horse, took him up to Sandpoint and put him on a rock," Frye said. "He got his elk."

Frye said he is looking forward to a life of kicking back next to lakes and rivers, but said he'll miss working for the county.

"I enjoy helping," he said. "It's been an honor and a privilege to take care of the veterans of Moffat County."

Bill Harding will take over the position and Frye is confident area veterans are in good hands.

"I've been here a long time and I've got a good assistant who's taking my place so the county's not going to be without a good service officer so the veterans will be taken care of," he said.

Frye joined the Army months before his 16th birthday, with permission from his parents. He told his father he'd have a good job when he came home and the promise of that income was a blessing. Frye's father earned $15 a month to support a wife and 10 children, of whom Frye was the oldest.

Frye was raised on a ranch and knew something about horses, so he thought he would be at home in the cavalry.

He left a small town outside of Topeka, Kan., in 1936 for boot camp at Fort Riley, Kan.

It was hell, Frye said, but it was only the beginning.

He left for Europe on Jan. 7, 1944.

"War is hell," he said. "Nothin' but hell."

Frye was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne, landing on the beaches of Normandy, France, just hours before the largest military invasion in history. He was part of the first wave of Americans to enter the war in Europe.

At 1:20 a.m. he jumped into the war and fought for 36 hours before meeting ground troops for the next invasion.

About his flight across the English Channel, he told the Daily Press in 1994, "We knew what was coming and we were scared to death. We all lied about it, but we were scared and we had no idea it was going to be like it was."

It was dark and the paratroopers couldn't see where they were landing. Some ended in trees, on wires or on the roofs of houses.

Frye landed in a pond.

He was 19 years old and said he couldn't think of anything but staying alive.

"You ceased to be a human being and you acted just like a cornered animal," he said. "You're survival instincts got really sharp and you'd do anything to stay alive. When it was daylight again, it wasn't a pretty sight."

Frye was injured four times, three times in France and once in Belgium. One injury cost him his left eye.

He was awarded a Purple Heart and a Normandy Invasion medal.

He was discharged from the army in 1945, returned to the United States and used his GI Bill to get training as a carpenter.

He came to Craig in 1976 to help build the power plant. He retired for the first time at 62.

Frye's a lifetime member of the Craig Elks Club and the Veteran's of Foreign Wars Post 4265. He will continue his work with veterans through his involvement in that post.

And he'll look back on a good 18 years.

"I can't tell you how many people I've talked to," he said. "I've enjoyed the work and I've enjoyed being a neighbor. Helping people."

The Moffat County Board of Commissioners will honor Frye for his service at 8:30 a.m. March 10 at the Moffat County Courthouse.

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