When Don Fuesler was 19, he met a fresh-faced kid from Washington who claimed that his corner of the union was “God’s country.” After sharing some laughs he urged Don to make a visit someday. Unfortunately, the two were entrenched on the front lines of World War II—an about face from the scenic views of Washington.

Months before, Don arrived in the icy waters a mile off Omaha Beach. He was forced to either rip free from his heavy pack or drown. Luckily he was skinny enough to wriggle free, swim to shore and survive his first grueling brawl in combat. This was just one of nearly a dozen times he faced death during his 157-day tour that helped liberate the city of Metz from Nazi Germany. It was an experience of trauma and triumph that imprinted him deeply and decorated him with 20 military medals, including the Légion d’honneur—the highest French order for military merits.

Don says that in war, “You come to realize how valuable any one life is, including yours, and that everything should and needed to be done in order to preserve that life.”

This realization is part of what led him into the medical field after war. He also reconnected with his high school sweetheart, Margaret, and the two were soon married. Living meagerly and working as a team they put Don through medical school, moved west for an internship and eventually opened a general practice in Longview, Washington of all places.

Don’s passion became patients rather than any one area of expertise. This allowed him to do almost everything needed to ensure that each of his patients could lead healthy lives. For 23 years, he performed surgeries, set fractures and delivered what he estimates as 1,000 babies for local families. Along the way, he and Margaret brought three of their own into the world.

They also discovered a call to help others in their community. Margaret became active with the Longview Junior Service League, and after retirement Don got involved with numerous boards.

don-fuesler-quoteTo better manage their charitable pursuits, the Fueslers opened a Donor Advised Fund at the Community Foundation and gave generously to Cowlitz County organizations addressing causes like arts and culture, education, basic needs and health.

In 2015, they decided to double down on their legacy of caring in Longview by giving $50,000 to the Cowlitz County Community Endowment Fund. This endowed gift is an investment that will grow over time and support local nonprofits year after year. The investment also ensures that the entire community is able to enjoy the same treasures that the Fueslers love about Longview and Washington state.

“I wanted to share with the community what they have given to me, because I’m grateful for the life we’ve had here,” Don said.

Don still remembers the young replacement soldier who told him to visit Washington. While the war robbed Don of the chance to thank him for the advice, he and Margaret have certainly shown their gratitude through local giving. Together, they have made Cowlitz County an even better place and shown that legacies of compassion and generosity can grow from even the darkest of places.