Veterans Healing Memorial aims to prevent vet suicide
At 1400 hours Wednesday, Nov. 13, a crowd gathered behind the Jefferson County Community Center to dedicate a Veterans Healing Memorial.
The memorial started as a dream of Vietnam veteran Shawn Stanfill's, not only as a tribute to veterans, but also as a place to help prevent suicide.
Veterans service officer Laura Moore gave special thanks to her fellow officer, Kayla Goodman, and to Stanfill.
The crowd fell silent, and many saluted as the VFW Honor Guard — Craig McDonald, Jon Granby, Rich Loman and Len Parsons — carried in the colors. Thirteen-year-old Powell Butte resident Molly Gaynor sang the national anthem, and then Leonard Hellwig, of Madras VFW Post 12141, played the somber notes of "Taps" on his trumpet
After the Honor Guard marched out, James Stratton from Madras Church of Christ gave the invocation.
"Our father in heaven," he said, "we thank you for the ultimate freedom ... freedom from sin."
He thanked God for the brave people who have fought and asked for comfort and protection.
"Help them to stay united, bold, strong, resolute," he said. "... Let peace and healing rule our hearts."
Stanfill then told those assembled about the project.
"The most important theme of this memorial is 'no man left behind,'" he said.
The veteran suicide rate is estimated at roughly 20 deaths per day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
"The importance of dealing with this issue has been brought forth by many in this community," Stanfill said.
The memorial is the first Stanfill knows of that is an active memorial. While the names of veterans will be displayed in a later phase of the project, the memorial is meant to be used. There are benches, and more are planned. Firewood stacked neatly is meant to be burned in a fire pit that says, "Band of Brothers."
There are picnic tables, too.
But the memorial will not be enough to bring healing, Stanfill said. He believes the answer to that is found in the 53rd chapter of the biblical book of Isaiah, which describes a suffering servant who will bear the sins of the people without complaint. Many Christians believe the prophet was predicting the life and suffering of Jesus.
Louise Muir, building manager of the Jefferson County Community Center — which until recently was referred to as the senior center — said, "We are so honored to have this as part of our community center because the veterans are very important to us."
Muir said she has never met people she has been more honored to be around. She gave special attention to Gene Brick, a World War II veteran.
"He is very, very special, and I just want to say thank you," she said.
Goodman then introduced Johnathan Courtney, who she said "does amazing things for suicide prevention."
A former Army infantryman and military intelligence officer and current chairman of the VFW Oregon Veterans Health and Wellness Committee, Courtney chose to wear his medals because he breaks them out for special occasions, he said.
"This is the community I love. This is the home I love," he said.
He asked those attending to look around at each other.
"This is the importance of this memorial," Courtney said.
He thanked Stanfill for his work, adding that he is proud to call him a friend and a mentor.
"But this memorial means a lot more," Courtney said. "No one left behind, no woman, veteran, no one."
He said it is a place where veterans can reach out for help, and sometimes they need another veteran to do that.
"We all can make a difference in someone's life," he said, adding that can be as simple as asking someone who is in pain, "Are you OK?"
He also said he had the utmost respect for Brick's service.
"He earned it. He deserves it," Courtney said.
Then, just before Mike Williams began to sing and drum a medicine song, Major Wissing flew a Civil Air Patrol over to cheers from those gathered.
As Williams sang, Stanfill lit the fire.
"We want to honor this fire today," Goodman said.
After the ceremony, Courtney said he is passionate about suicide prevention because he had made four attempts himself.
"How do we change it?" he said. "This is one excellent way."
He envisions the memorial is a place veterans can go so that they won't feel isolated, whether that is for a barbecue in the summer or to roast marshmallows and make s'mores in the winter.
"It's that hope," Courtney said. Knowing that someone has lived through the experience lets veterans realize they are not alone.
Stanfill told of future plans for the memorial, saying more donations are needed for the final phase of the project.
"With that being said, Charlie Mike," he concluded. "Continue mission."
City Council approves funds for bench, St. Charles to fund flagpole
The Madras City Council unanimously agreed to provide up to $2,500 toward the purchase of a bench for Phase 3 of the Veterans Healing Memorial at its meeting Nov. 12.
"The theme of this memorial is 'no man left behind,' so we're trying to mitigate the suicide rate that is 18 to 22 a day," project manager Shawn Stanfill told the council.
"We are so honored to even have this out there and to serve our veterans any way we can," said Louise Muir of the Jefferson County Community Center, where the memorial is located. "We want to serve anybody in the community and help alleviate any type of suicide ... but this is a place where they can come and sit and reflect."
The next phase of the plan will include benches to represent each of the branches of the U.S. military, plus one for emergency medical services, Stanfill said.
Muir said they have approached several agencies and St. Charles Health Systems has promised up to $500 for one of the seven planned flagpoles. In addition the military flags, a U.S., POW and MIA flags are also planned.
Stanfill said the final fourth phase, for which the project is seeking donations, will be a steel, hot-riveted octagonal structure that will have veterans' names machined on the beams.
Muir is putting together a database of names to be included.
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