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The Saturday evening gala was a fundraiser for the Oregon State Capitol Veterans Memorial Fund.

COURTESY PHOTO: VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL FUND - Retired U.S. Marine Corps general and former secretary of defense James Mattis was the featured speaker during a fundraising gala held in Hillsboro on Saturday, May 7. The event seeks to raise money for a war memorial slated to be built on the Oregon Capitol grounds. A red, white and blue color scheme lit up the banquet hall of Northwest Events and Environments in Hillsboro on Saturday evening, May 7, as former U.S. secretary of defense and retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis spoke to a well-connected crowd at a gala fundraiser.

The purpose was to raise money for the Vietnam War Memorial scheduled to be built on the Oregon State Capitol grounds — an effort that will require $3.5 million, according to the Vietnam War Memorial Fund.

"It was my great fortune to serve with those brave veterans to whom your memorial will pay tribute," Mattis said during his prepared remarks, mentioning that he was trained as a fresh recruit by hardened Navy officers who'd served in Vietnam: "I'm eternally grateful for them, because they were the rough whetstone that sharpened and shaped me and so many other young Marines."

Mattis headlined an event that celebrated the stories of those who served, so as to highlight the importance of memorials to their sacrifice and service.

The fundraising dinner also featured remarks from other retired veterans like Coast Guard Cmdr. Douglas Sheehan; Navy Capt. Greg Wooldridge; and Navy Capt. Steven Ahlberg, who served with the Navy SEALs.

Local officials also attended the gala, including Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway. He sponsored a table at the event for other local officials who are Vietnam vets.

Washington County Commissioner Jerry Willey, who served aboard a Navy aircraft carrier in 1972 and 1973, was among them. So were Forest Grove Mayor Pete Truax and Durham Mayor Gery Schirado.

"I think it's important that we honor the Oregonians who died in Vietnam," Willey told Pamplin Media Group.

He noted that of the 58,318 Americans who died in the war, 710 of them were from Oregon.

"That's certainly worthy of a memorial," Willey said.

Willey's own cousin, Robert Leon Willey of Grangeville, Idaho, died in Vietnam. He was a few years older than Willey and enlisted in the Army. He died May 10, 1969, at just 21 years old.

The memorial itself is designed as a series of black granite columns, etched with the names of the Oregonians who died in the conflict. Set around the grounds are four "Brothers Benches" to honor the Double Gold Star families who lost two sons in the war.

The memorial will also contain a POW-MIA station, Purple Heart statuette, and a station honoring the nurses who served in the war, too.

Coastal redwoods and blue atlas and Port Orford cedars will be planted around the site.

The Hillsboro event kicked off public fundraising efforts to pay for the price tag, said event coordinator and fund board member Dan Mason.

"We were very excited about the night, how it went off … and building awareness of a project that many people might not know about yet," he said. "I had people, elected and former lawmakers, who said they were unaware that this project was happening."

Mason said that about $80,000 was raised at the dinner based on table costs and admission, as well as direct contributions made that evening, though those are still being tallied.

A little under $1 million has been raised for the memorial so far, including $400,000 set aside by the Oregon Legislature in 2021. COURTESY PHOTO: VIETNAM WAR MEMORIAL FUND - Gen. James Mattis (ret.) speaks during a fundraiser dinner in Hillsboro on Saturday, May 7. Proceeds from the event will go toward a memorial planned on the Oregon State Capitol grounds.

Mattis, a native of Pullman, Washington, said during his remarks that training for his own service was a lesson in how much others sacrifice for their country.

"It was a challenge that this son of the Pacific Northwest never saw coming," Mattis said. "This memorial that Oregonians will build is a tribute to their neighbors who fought and paid for it with their lives."

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