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The aging memorial honoring all Crook County veterans had quit working and was replaced with a flickering light bulb before leaders of the county maintenance and veterans services departments teamed up to repair it

JASON CHANEY/CENTRAL OREGONIAN
 - The Eternal Flame, which had quit burning this past fall due to aging equipment, was repaired, and now the symbol honoring Crook County veterans burns once more.

When the eternal flame burned out, something had to be done.

A symbol erected in recognition of all Crook County veterans by the local American Legion in the 1960s, the flame quit working in mid to late November, according to Shannon Dearth, who serves as executive director of the County Veterans Services Department.

"There were a couple of ideas suggested," Dearth recalls. "Do we fix this? Do we replace it? Do we put in a light bulb that resembles a flickering flame?"

The light bulb idea made the cut. The flame had blown out and an auto igniter that had been installed 10 years ago had quit working. The small structure near the Crook County Courthouse steps was leaking gas and had become a safety hazard.

"So I just put one of those flame light bulbs in there for a few days to at least keep something going," said Greg Hinshaw, the county's maintenance director.

The solution wasn't embraced by local veterans.

Dearth points out that the eternal flame has many different meanings for military veterans.

"It can be used to remember those who have fallen before us," he said. "It can be used to remember certain events."

In the case of the eternal flame that graces the courthouse walkway, a plaque affixed to the stone structure says it is intended to honor all Crook County veterans.

"Some of the veterans I talked to (said) an actual flame felt more fitting than just a flickering light bulb," Dearth said. "There is just something special about a flame. It is a living, breathing resemblance of what it is intended for."

Hinshaw said that fixing the flame structure was no longer a viable option.

"It was so outdated, we decided to replace the whole thing," he said.

Hinshaw credits Sunset Stoves, a local Prineville business, with installing the new flame, which was once again burning about a week ago. Now, county staff plans to spruce up the landscaping and décor around the structure.

"We are still in the process of putting some new bark dust down, painting the rails and making it complete," he said.

Early reviews of the new flame are glowing, Dearth said. He has heard several positive comments from people who have walked past the repaired structure, and some have told him they can even see the flame from the road when they drive past the courthouse.

Dearth hopes to hold a re-dedication ceremony for the newly repaired eternal flame, with all local veteran organizations invited, especially the American Legion. The event is far from finalized, but he is targeting a time near Memorial Day weekend.

"It was kind of a fun project," he said. "Hopefully, it will last quite a few more years."


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