Plaques honor local veterans


Part of city's Veterans Memorial Plaza

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Don Reeder, who helped raise funds for the benches and memorial plaques at the veterans plaza, addresses the crowd gathered for the dedication.Eight years after two friends started a small project to memorialize a friend, the completed veterans plaza and its benches were dedicated in front of the Madras City Hall on July 3.

Lyndsay Hessel and K'Lyn Bush began collecting donations for a permanent memorial for their classmate, Pfc. Thomas Tucker, shortly after he was killed in Iraq in June 2006.

"I honestly thought we'd raise $10,000 and have a small plaque," said Hessel, as she looked around the plaza, which now includes a statue, commemorative brick pavers, and the benches with their new plaques, all worth well over $100,000.

The two credit Don Reeder, who emceed the dedication, with much of the success of the project. "Don stepped in and helped us get it completed," said Hessel.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Meg and Wes Tucker, Thomas Tucker Sr., and artist Rip Caswell stand in front of the Tom Tucker Memorial statue.The bronze memorial statue — designed and constructed by artist Rip Caswell, of Troutdale, who was on hand for Thursday's dedication — was installed and unveiled in August 2009. A few months later, the benches were completed by inmates at Deer Ridge Correctional Institution in November 2009, but the city hall had not yet been built.

After the city hall was finished in January 2013, the five benches, each of which honors a branch of the U.S. military, were installed, but the plaques were a recent addition, thanks to donations from the community.

From east to west, the benches honor the late Al Bean, who served in the U.S. Navy; Alex Johnson, who served from 2008-2012 in the U.S. Army; the late Barney Ahern, who served in the U.S. Marines; Jack Root, who served in the U.S. Army; and those who served in the Coast Guard.

"We appreciate the veterans and all they've done for the country," said Reeder, who also acknowledged the many donors — from individuals who deposited money in a jar to the major contributors.

"I can't even imagine a more beautiful veterans plaza," he said.

The plaque for Bean was purchased by a donation from the Bean Foundation Board, which Reeder represents. Reeder, who has served as the legal representative for the Bean Foundation since it was incorporated in 1981, said that he was honored to get to know his client, who had served in the military and been severely injured in the South Pacific.

"A lot of what is good in the city of Madras is from him," said Reeder. "His vision was that private and public would have a partnership in order to make the community better."

During his lifetime, Bean first donated land for Mountain View Hospital and the United Methodist Church, and after the Bean Foundation was formed, donated land and funds for Bean Park.

The Bean Foundation has since donated about 195 acres for projects, including an expansion of Bean Park (.80 acres), Juniper Hills Park (101.67 acres), Jefferson County Middle School (29.56 acres); City View right-of-way (7.12 acres); Sahalee Park expansion (1.27 acres); Juniper Junction (1.97 acres); COCC's Madras campus (48.16 acres); and the Madras Aquatic Center (3.16 acres).

The plaque for Johnson, who joined the U.S. Army after graduating from Madras High School in 2008, was purchased by Wilbur-Ellis for the Air Force bench.

Dan Comingore, of Wilbur-Ellis, noted that when Johnson was just 16, he volunteered for Jefferson County Emergency Medical Services, and was recognized as the youngest first-responder in the state.

Johnson was severely injured in Afghanistan on Oct. 23, 2009, and earned two Purple Hearts and a Good Conduct Medal. In June, he graduated from San Antonia College with an Associate of Applied Science, earning his emergency medical technician-paramedic certification.

"We need to step back and reflect on why we are here today ... what they sacrificed for us to be here today," said Comingore, with Johnson's mother, Becky Stever, by his side.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - The Ahern family sits on and surrounds the bench dedicated to the Marines and the late Barney Ahern, whose widow, Pat, sits next to the plaque.The Ahern family purchased the plaque recognizing Barney Ahern, who served in the U.S. 2nd Marine Division in World War II, and like Johnson, was injured when he was just 19 years old.

"Seventy years ago today, my dad was seriously injured in Saipan," said Barney Ahern's son, Mike Ahern, a Jefferson County commissioner. "We're thankful to all the men and women who have served the country."

John Melvin "Jack" Root Jr., a partner in Central Oregon Seed, was the only honoree to attend the ceremony. Root served in the U.S. Army Ohio Buckeyes 37th Division, from October 1944 until December 1945.

by: HOLLY M. GILL - Jack and Virginia Root sit on the bench honoring Root for his service in the U.S. Army.He was wounded in June 1945, while stationed in the Philippines, and earned a Bronze Star for Bravery, and the Purple Heart for being wounded in action.

Central Oregon Seed purchased the plaque for the U.S. Army bench honoring Root.

The plaque for the Coast Guard was donated by the Rotary Club for Jefferson County.

Reeder said that the plaza is a community treasure, "and a memorial to those who died or were wounded in combat. Those veterans do not fade away in Jefferson County."

After the dedication, Meg and Wes Tucker, the parents of Tom Tucker, admired the finished plaza, and posed for photos with Caswell in front of the statue of their son.

"This is nice," said Meg Tucker. "It's much more than I ever thought it would be."

Caswell recalled his original drawings for the Tucker family, which included a star on the plaza under the statue. "They carried every detail out," he said. "The plaza is beautiful; it's a great setting."