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Overdue recognition: Eagle Scout project restores veterans' graves

Wilsonville High student Reed Burress honors veterans dating back to the Mexican war of the 1840s


by: JOSH KULLA - Reed Burress cleans off one of the 12 grave markers he recently put in place to honor American veterans at the Pleasant View Cemetery outside Wilsonville. U.S. Navy veteran Edward Everett Hale spent three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.

He managed to survive the experience and lived to be 77 years old before passing away in 1996. He was buried at the historic Pleasant View Cemetery outside Wilsonville, one of the oldest pioneer cemeteries in the area.

But in a relatively short time, Hale’s grave literally became lost to the elements and reclaimed by the soil.

When Wilsonville resident Charlotte Lehan became the archivist and webmaster for the cemetery eight years ago, she found Hale was just one of 12 military veterans interred there whose final resting places had suffered the same fate.

“Like a lot of pioneer cemeteries, we have a lot of missing headstones, probably 200 to 300 missing headstones,” said Lehan, who now is president of the Pleasant View Cemetery Association. “But the ones that are veterans, it means that when theirs are missing there’s no way to recognize them on Memorial Day or Veterans Day.”

On Saturday, March 17, however, those veterans finally got their day of recognition, thanks to West Linn resident Reed Burress, 18, who will graduate from Wilsonville High School this June. And because of those 12 veterans he’ll be doing it as an Eagle Scout.

He has risen all the way through the Scouting ranks over the past 12 years. Along the way he chose to stay with his friends in local schools and Wilsonville-based Troop 194 despite a family move to West Linn.

For his Eagle Scout service project, Burress has used the last several months to dig into cemetery archives and research the approximate location of the 12 veterans’ graves.

He then enlisted the help of family, friends and fellow Scouts — not to mention a surveyor — to create stainless steel plaques bearing the veterans’ names, birth and death dates and service information. Those plaques then were affixed to stout concrete bases and atop their gravesites.

Last weekend Burress headed up a ceremony to dedicate the project. On hand were representatives from American L egion Post 56 in Sherwood, State Rep. John Davis of Wilsonville, city of Sherwood officials and members of Wilsonville Scout Troop 194, which is affiliated with St. Cyril Catholic Church.

Burress spoke to the audience about the rewards and ideals of Scouting. But afterward, he insisted that even though the restoration of the gravesites was incredibly worthwhile, he should not be the one receiving credit.

“It was,” he said. “But the reason I decided this project, is I really shouldn’t get recognized for what I did, these guys should. They served our country and they should be recognized for that.”

The notion of honoring American military veterans came from his grandfather, he added, who served as a tank commander in the Army during World War II. More recently, fellow Scout Cameron Gilbert’s earlier Eagle Project at Pleasant View, where he repaired damaged headstones, was the catalyst for Burress’ own work.

“I just decided that I wanted to honor the 12 veterans who were here because they don’t get honored on Memorial Day or Veteran’s Day,” he said. “On the cemetery map, starting in the 1800s, we had records of everyone who was buried here. Most of them actually still don’t have markers, and so when we came across the map we found out that most of them were veterans and 12 of the veterans didn’t have markers.” by: JOSH KULLA - Eagle Scout candidate Reed Burress of Boy Scout Troop 194 recently built and installed markers like the one above to honor the resting places of military veterans at the Pleasant View Cemetery.

A long time coming

Lehan said this is a project that has been on her mind in one form or another for quite some time.

“For a couple years I tried to talk different Scouts into doing just a few,” she said. “So when Reed came up with a plan to do the metal engraved, and then decided he was going to do all 12, that’s all 12 of my veterans. So, that was huge.”

The federal government still requires proof of service, including original discharge and muster paperwork, before it will issue an official federal marker for deceased veterans, she added. That was simply out of the question, given that three of the newly-marked veterans served in the Civil War, four others served in wars against Indian Tribes and one in the even earlier Mexican-American War.

But she’s not quibbling over that kind of detail.

“I feel a lot better about it now going into Memorial Day weekend that they’ll be appropriately marked,” Lehan said.

Ed Burress is Reed’s father. An engineer by profession, he has watched his son progress from a 5-year-old Cub Scout all the way to the top of the organization’s ranks. He said Reed is the only one out of 15 fellow Den 6 Cub Scouts to remain with Scouting.

“It was just after crossover, when the boys go from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts, and he saw the payoff coming,” Ed Burress said. “That was it. He saw the payoff coming. For him it was, he still had fun but he took it a little more seriously.”

It’s important that boys be involved in something that engages them with other boys, he added.

“And for (Reed), Scouting really fit,” he said. “Every once in a while you think about how the country’s going south, and then you see these guys coming out here. I sat in on a few Eagle Board of Reviews, and I tell you, it just changes your heart.”

Burress has yet to decide on a university or a course for the future. But one thing is certain: when he Burress does decide, he’s going to enter into that decision with the intention of permanence.

That’s how he approached his project.

“They should sink down a little bit over time with erosion,” he said, pointing at the concrete slab and machined plaque bearing Hale’s name and 1919 birth date. “But they will be here for a long time to come.”

by: JOSH KULLA - West Linn resident and  Boy Scout Troop 194 member Reed Burress, second from right, restored the graves of U.S. veterans for his Eagle Scout service project.



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