Service to country is a family tradition

New Mexico Army National Guard commissioning ceremony spanned generations

Dorothy Nobis
Special to The Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The two soldiers stood tall in front of the American flag. With their shoulders back and making eye contact, they saluted each other.

Tears were in their eyes and the connection between them was obvious. They were celebrating one's previous service to America, and the other's commission as a New Mexico Army National Guard second lieutenant during a commissioning ceremony April 9 in Farmington.

Second Lt. Avery Killifer followed a tradition in the Army that newly commissioned second lieutenants present a silver coin to the first enlisted soldier who salutes them. The coin symbolizes the receipt of respect to the new rank and position.

Killifer, 29, selected his 99-year-old great-grandfather – who in World War II served as Tech. Sgt. Walter "Red" Dorman – to render his first salute. While the age difference is considerable, they say the desire to serve their country is a bond they share.

U.S. Army veteran Walter “Red” Dorman and his great grandson Second Lieutenant Avery Killifer  exchange salutes during Killifer's New Mexico Army National Guard commissioning ceremony recently in Farmington.

Memories that never go away

Dorman enlisted in the Army when he was 17. After completing boot camp, he was assigned to the 821st Tank Destroyer Battalion. He was sent to England and on June 6, 1944, Dorman and his unit "hit the beach" at Normandy.

The memories of that war still haunt Dorman. He recalled being sent to check out a house that his unit destroyed with explosives. Going into the house was, Dorman said, "the biggest mistake I ever made."

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"The first thing I saw was a little girl, about 8-years-old, and she was torn all to pieces. Her mother was lying next to her," he said. "I could never get over that. They were innocent and I took them out."

"War is terrible," Dorman added. "The toughest part (of the war) was the killing. I couldn't stand that I killed a little girl."

"I went through pure hell fighting the war," he added with a shake of his head. "I didn't know whose house we were taking out and I didn't know who was in there."

The memory of that 8-year-old girl was one Dorman just couldn’t forget. "It affected me for a long time," he said.

"The doctor finally sent me to a psychiatrist, and I was finally able to talk about it," he said then added that the girl will always remind him of the horrors of war and the lives of innocent people who died because of it.

The memories and the struggles Dorman had while serving were difficult. But the pride he has in his great-grandson brings a smile to his face. 

Walter “Red” Dorman showed some items from his days of service as a U.S. Army Tech Sergeant during World War II, where he was part of the invasion force that came ashore in Normandy. on June 6, 1944.

"Avery is a good, honest kid and he'll go up in rank," he said. "He'll be a captain, then a colonel, and maybe a general. He's always respected me and he's a very intelligent and good kid."

A new generation carries on

Killifer enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps for four years of active duty after high school. He was with the 11th Marine Regiment Target Acquisition Platoon, Counter Battery Radar. After active duty, Killifer said he decided to focus on his education.

"I thought that my military service was behind me after the time I had served, but I couldn't stay away," he said.

"I love the camaraderie, the team effort and physical challenges that comprise military culture," Killifer said. "I decided to go into the OCS (Officer Candidate School) for the New Mexico National Guard to continue my service to my country. Although there is chaos in the world, I would say, if anything, the challenge of adventure and excitement of new experiences further provoked me into service."

"I also want to be a positive force for change in the Army – that is, helping soldiers be successful in their military careers as well as their civilian endeavors."

Unfortunately, Killifer was injured twice during training and was diagnosed with rhabdomyolysis and had complications with his kidneys. The recovery was difficult and kept him from graduating with the rest of his class.

Determined to complete his training. Killifer said he remembered what his great-grandfather went through. "I would always remember how hard it was for Grandpa Red and I forced myself to continue," he said. "I would not allow myself to fail myself, my fellow soldiers or dishonor my family. Quitting was never an option."

Killifer said he has spent time with Dorman talking about his great-grandfather's experiences in World War II. 

"One thing he has told me, and that I will never forget, is 'War is hell, son, and I hope to God you never have to go,'" Killifer said.

Killifer looks forward to the leadership opportunities he finds by serving. 

"Whether it be mentorship, training, or combat operations, the responsibility of leadership is an honor and a privilege," he said. "Gen. Douglas McArthur nicely summed up the worst thing about being a soldier. 'The soldier above all others, prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.'"

Having his great-grandfather as part of his commission ceremony was an easy decision, Killifer said.

"Selecting Grandpa Red was a small token of my appreciation that I could offer as gratitude for his courageous and honorable military service during a period of fierce fighting in our nation's history. Grandpa fought with honor and willingly put his life on the line for our country. He deserves recognition for the hardship and sacrifice that he endured during those hellish years of fighting," he said.

"I can only hope that, should I face the same danger and hardships, that I answer my country's call with the same valor that my grandfather did. He is one of the biggest reasons I joined the Army," he added.

Two men, decades separating them, share a dedication to serve in our nation's military. Dorman is delighted his great-grandson is following in his footsteps.

"Avery wants to protect our country," Dorman said with a smile, but tears of joy filling his eyes. "He's a wonderful kid and he's a great soldier."

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