Alfred “Al” Collins, Wahpeton, proudly stood with U.S. Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Collins, 73, served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War before being honorably discharged in 1971. In a ceremony at the Richland County Courthouse, Wahpeton, Collins received nine military awards that he was entitled to. The awards were presented by Rep. Armstrong.

“One of the things politicians always like to do is take credit for things,” Armstrong said to Collins. “I want you to know it is my honor and privilege to be here today, because of your service, because of your sacrifice. To you and your family, this day has been a long time coming.”

Collins’ honors included the Purple Heart; Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal — Combat V; Navy Unit Commendation; Meritorious Unit Commendation; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal — KOREA; Vietnam Service Medal — 1 Silver Star; Honorary Reserve Discharge Button; and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal with 1960 device.

A father, grandfather and great-grandfather, Collins showed his awards to guests including his wife of 48 years, Donna Rae, and Richland County Veteran Service Officer Mary Vetter. Several present shared their gratitude both for Collins’ service to America and Vetter’s continued above and beyond advocacy for her community’s veterans.

Richland County Commissioner Tim Campbell is among those who continue to highlight Vetter’s accomplishments. He’s proud of her tenacity, exhaustive work and professionalism.

“I don’t think Mary even recognizes the Red River as separating the two states. You take care of people,” Commissioner Rollie Ehlert said.

“If it wasn’t for this one (Vetter), this wouldn’t have happened,” Collins said. “I know that for a fact.”

Collins’ honors, earned more than 50 years ago, received new attention in 2019. That year, Vetter discovered that Collins had not received what he was owed for his service. She worked with Armstrong’s office, who worked with the National Personnel Records Center and the North Dakota Department of Veterans Affairs.

“The awarding of medals is one of the most time-honored, cherished and sacred traditions in America’s armed forces,” Armstrong stated.

Richland County is a community that remarkably supports and is aware of its veterans and their needs, Vetter said.

“Today is why I do the job,” Armstrong said. “This is one of those things that should never fall through the cracks. We’re 50 years from awarding (Collins) medals that you should have received upon your discharge.”

One large problem affects both the United States and society on the whole, Armstrong said.

“We have the collective attention span of a fruit fly. And that’s true. And it’s gotten even worse with Facebook and Twitter and the digital age and a point and click society. But the reality is, (Collins’) service and sacrifice and those of everyone you’ve served with should never be forgotten,” Armstrong said.

Vetter also received an award from Armstrong: an American flag which previously flew over the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

“You deserve it,” Armstrong said.

Collins, who posed with Armstrong and family members, gave his thanks.

“I was surprised to hear that I would receive these awards. It feels really good, and I am honored to receive this recognition. I appreciate Congressman Armstrong and North Dakota Veterans Affairs helping me finally receive them,” Collins said.

Veterans Day is a time for Americans to renew their spirit, admiration and obligation to veterans, Vetter said.

“As a nation, we owe an immense amount of gratitude to the men and women who have served in our armed forces,” Armstrong said. “Al (defended) the freedoms and liberties we enjoy in the United States.”

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