Officially, the USS Park County was named for all three Park Counties in America: One each in Wyoming, Montana and Colorado.
But it was the residents of Park County, Wyoming, who made the deepest connection with the ship and its crew as they served in the Vietnam War.
That decades-old relationship resulted in Park County receiving a ceremonial gift on Tuesday: the last flag that flew aboard the tank landing ship (LST) before its 1971 decommissioning.
Cody veteran Dave Van Auken — who served 19 months aboard the USS Park County beginning in March 1968 — presented the flag and some other items to Park County commissioners on Tuesday on the behalf of retired Cmdr. John Dobrosky of Hawaii.
“I present it to you to take care of,” Van Auken told the commissioners, adding, “It represents every sailor that was on that ship.”
In accepting the gift, Commission Chairman Tim French said the flag was “very much appreciated.”
“This is quite an honor that has been bestowed upon the people of Park County,” French said, pledging to display it “in a very prominent place” at the courthouse.
Dobrosky — the former captain of the USS Park County — received the flag at a crew reunion in San Diego several years ago.
In a Wednesday phone interview from Hawaii, Dobrosky explained that he didn’t have a place to fly the flag and had considered donating it to a Vietnam War-era museum.
“Then it dawned on me that, why I don’t turn the flag and all of the info, all of the photos, over to Cody, Wyoming?”
He fondly recalls the support that area residents provided to him and the crew.
“The people from Cody were so nice,” Dobrosky said.
The ship was first launched in 1945, serving in both World War II and the Korean War under the unremarkable name of USS LST-1077.
However, in 1955, the U.S. Navy began naming its ships after American counties, and the USS LST-1077 became the USS Park County for “counties in Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming,” Navy records say. (Other ships from that era bear the names of Wyoming’s Lincoln and Crook counties.)
The USS Park County was recommissioned for the Vietnam War in April of 1966.
Before the commissioning ceremony in Portland, Oregon, Dobrosky decided to send letters to the chambers of commerce located in the seats of the three Park Counties: to Livingston, Montana; Fairplay, Colorado; and Cody. The letters notified the officials of the ship’s recommissioning and its upcoming tour in Vietnam.
Community members in Livingston sent a painting that was later displayed on the ship, Dobrosky said, but it was Park County, Wyoming, that stood out.
Cody sent a delegation of perhaps a half-dozen people to attend the ceremony. Among them was the late Katie Brown, a Garland native and Powell High School graduate who, according to her 2009 obituary, would become “the self-appointed ship mother for 5 1/2 years.”
The local delegation gave Dobrosky a couple mementos from Cody — including a vest that he later had framed in the ship’s mess — and invited him to visit Park County.
As it so happened, Dobrosky happened to be heading to Washington, D.C., after the commissioning and he decided to stop in Cody.
His local hosts put him in a parade, took him to the rodeo and treated him to a picnic that may or may not have featured a unique Western dish.
“They said it was bear meat, so I don’t know if they were just kidding me or not,” he laughed.
Katie Brown’s husband, Claud, showed Dobrosky the area’s mountains, where he says he “saw the beautiful scenery, elk all over the place and drank water right out of the creek that was thoroughly fresh.”
The relationship didn’t stop there.
“Every Christmas, the ship would receive a box of Christmas cards signed by someone in Cody,” Dobrosky recalled. The captain’s executive officer would then address a card to each crew member “so they all received a Christmas card,” he said.
One year, Dobrosky recalls, a box of venison came along with the cards.
According to Katie Brown’s obituary, she helped arrange one shipment that included 3,210 pounds of locally baked cookies and another that included Christmas trees.
“Cody came (and) really, really, really did a lot for the ship, and I deeply appreciated all the work that they did,” Dobrosky said.
The USS Park County aided the Vietnam War effort from 1966 to 1971, according to Navy records, serving as a base of operations for Coast Guard cutters and Navy “Swift Boats” and transporting needed cargo, ammunition and troops.
Cody veteran Van Auken said it was only after his time aboard the USS Park County that he learned its name was tied to Wyoming.
“As time went by, it meant more and more to me,” Van Auken said.
Park County commissioners expressed appreciation for the veterans’ service.
In a thank you letter mailed Wednesday, the commissioners also invited Dobrosky to “visit Cody again to see the flag in its new location.”