Highway signs honor vets

Sean C. Morgan

Two new signs at the east city limit mark Highway 20 as the Medal of Honor Highway, honoring Oregon’s 26 recipients of the Medal of Honor.

“These signs will be an everlasting reminder and our way of honoring our heroes, to remember their achievements, their courage and their dedication and to say thank you for their sacrifices,” said Mayor Greg Mahler during an unveiling ceremony Friday afternoon at Shea Point. “These signs, in conjunction with the Veterans Memorial and the military banner project solidifies the pride our citizens of Sweet Home have for our military.

“We’re here today to honor our service members and to remember the sacrifices they have made and the courage it takes to defend honor, duty and country. I personally want to thank all those who have served. You’re the very reason why we enjoy the freedoms we have.”

Donating funds to pay for the westbound sign located at the city limits were Cascade Timber Consulting, Sweet Home Timber, Radiator Supply House, and Murphy Company.

The Oregon Trail Chapter 72 of the Korean War Veterans Association paid for the eastbound sign located just east of Shea Point.

Representatives of each donor attended the unveiling. Local veterans groups attended, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Auxiliary and the AmVets. Ken Collins played “Taps,” followed by a rifle volley by local veterans. They were joined by city councilors James Goble and Diane Gerson, City Manager Ray Towry, police officers and firefighters.

The Sweet Home High School choir sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Bless America.”

On Feb. 13, during the City Council’s regular meeting, Mahler proclaimed Sweet Home a “Medal of Honor City” to honor Oregon’s Medal of Honor recipients.

The Oregon Medal of Honor Highway honors Medal of Honor recipients connected with Oregon, said Dick Tobiason, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and the project manager and director of the Bend Heroes Foundation, which initiated the project. They earned the nation’s highest award for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty” during combat and at the risk of losing one’s life while saving others in eight wars in 10 countries from the Civil War to Vietnam.

Whether it is President Obama or President Trump, no matter who is president, “you’re always going to hear the same words,” Tobiason said: “conspicuous gallantry, intrepidity, above and beyond the call of duty. It means somebody did something you wouldn’t expect a normal person to do.”

No one would criticize anyone for not doing what these men did, Tobiason said. “More than half lost their lives while saving somebody else.”

While the award was easier to win during the Civil War, when it was created, Tobiason said, “after the Civil War it was very difficult to get the Medal of Honor. I’ve met six of them. They’ll all tell you the same thing.”

They wear the medal for all of those who did the same but were never recognized, Tobiason said.

One Oregon recipient remains alive – Robert D. “Bob” Maxwell of Bend. At 97, he is the oldest of the 71 Medal of Honor recipients from all wars living in our nation. While he has attended previous unveiling ceremonies, he was unable to attend Friday for health reasons. Gov. Brown sat with Maxwell when she signed the bill authorizing the Medal of Honor Highway.

During the unveiling cere-mony, individuals read Medal of Honor citations for five recipients. Reading were Milt Moran, incoming president of CTC, for Edward C. Allworth, U.S. Army, Corvallis; Tobiason for Maxwell, U.S. Army; Bob Cassidy of the Korean War Association for Stanley T. Adams, U.S. Army, The Dalles; Chuck Lusardi of the Oregon Trail Korean War Association for Loren R. Kaufman, U.S. Army, The Dalles; and Tobiason for John N. Holcomb, U.S. Army, Richland.

The Veterans Home in Lebanon is named after Allworth.

An Oregon Department of Transportation crew, led by sign crew coordinator Dave Hacek, installed the signs following the unveiling ceremony. They were the 10th and 11th signs out of 12 planned for the 451-mile highway, from Newport to Nyssa, border to border.

Tobiason said the final sign will be installed in Corvallis, most likely in April.

Signs also have been installed between Bend and Sisters at the Three Sisters Viewpoint, in Newport, east of Bend, east of Burns and near Nyssa.

Tobiason publicly thanked Moran and Dale Jenkins, commander of the Sweet Home American Legion post, for their work organizing the ceremony Friday.

The Bend Heroes Foundation drafted and requested the legislation, approved by the legislature and signed by Gov. Kate Brown in 2017, to designate Highway 20 as the Oregon Medal of Honor Highway. The project complements the Oregon Medal of Honor Exhibit created by the foundation at Ever-green Air and Space Museum in McMinnville and the five veterans memorial highway signs projects across Oregon, also managed by the foundation.

At 3,365 miles in length, Highway 20 is the longest in the nation, beginning in Newport and crossing 12 states to end in Boston, Mass. Fifty-seven percent of all 3,500 Medal of Honor awards made since 1862 are accredited to those states.

Tobiason said at least 12 states have created Medal of Honor highways, bridges and other monuments for individual recipients. None stretch border to border and honor all of the state’s recipients.

Tobiason hopes the project will encourage other similar projects across the country, especially along Highway 20.

In addition to the signs, the legislation named 12 Medal of Honor Cities, those connected to recipients. They include Agness, Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Hood River, Jordan Valley, Medford, Oakridge, Portland, Richland, Salem and The Dalles.

A permanent marker in each community will include the name of the city, the name of the recipient, an image of the recipient, the Medal of Honor citation, the name of the war, the years of the war, donors’ names, legacy and dedication date.

Medal of Honor marks will be funded by the foundation and installed by ODOT at selected rest areas and turnouts along Highway 20 displaying the three Medals of Honor, for the Army; Navy, Marines and Coast Guard; and Air Force. The markers will list the criteria for receiving the Medal of Honor and the names of all 26 Oregon recipients and their wars.

A quick response (QR) code on all the markers will allow viewers to download more detailed information from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society website.

The foundation has nearly completed funding for the Medal of Honor Highway and Medal of Honor cities projects. Donations are tax deductible and may be made at bendheroes.org or mailing 1900 NE 3rd St., Ste 106, #205, Bend, OR 97701.

Bend Heroes Foundation and its project partners previously raised $95,000 to pay ODOT to fabricate and install 79 signs on the six border to border memorial highways, some 2,500 miles in length, including U.S. Highway 395 for World War I, U.S. Highway 97 for World War II, Interstate 5 for Korea and the Purple Heart Trail, Interstate 84 for Vietnam; U.S. Highway 101 for Persian Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq; and U.S. Highway 20 for Medal of Honor recipients.

The foundation initiated that project more than 10 years ago, honoring nearly 500,000 Oregon veterans, 6,022 who died and an estimated 15,000 who were wounded during the five major wars over the past 100 years. The new Medal of Honor Highway crosses the war memorial highways.