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Friday event in Madras was moving, patriotic and powerful; names of county POW/MIA read

TONY AHERN  - Meg Tucker, right, hugs Sandra Clements during the wreath-laying element of the U.S. Highway 26 dedication ceremony Friday in Madras. U.S. Highway 26 through Oregon is now officially a POW/MIA Memorial Highway.

Approximately 150 people braved the smoke to gather at the Madras City Hall Plaza Friday for a moving dedication ceremony.

The Madras event was one of six held in Oregon on Friday — National POW/MIA Recognition Day in America — dedicating the highway, which runs from Seaside to the Idaho border.

Dick Tobiason was the master of ceremonies. Tobiason is a decorated Vietnam War veteran and chairman of the Bend Heroes Foundation, the organization behind the highway dedication program. Tobiason educated those on hand about just how many POW/MIA there are from America's fighting ranks and talked about the important ongoing efforts to account for these heroes. He also presented some history involved in getting the state to approve the highway honor— which featured unanimous votes by the often-divided State Legislature — and he provided personal recounts of men he served with in Vietnam who didn't make it home.

In Oregon, said Tobiason, there are 1,119 Oregonian POW-MIA, but he noted that the statistics aren't what is important. It's the names that are important, the people behind the statistics.

Later in the ceremony, Madras resident Tom Brown read the names of Jefferson County residents who were POWs or are now MIA. As a Boy Scout project, Brown's son, Jordan, created the MIA/POW memorial that is part of the Madras City Hall plaza.

Another monument on the northeast side of the plaza hovered over the event, the statue honoring the late Thomas Tucker, the Madras man who at age 25 was taken prisoner during the Iraq war and killed by his captors, in June 2006. Tuckers' parents, Wes and Meg Tucker, were on hand as honored guest, as were others local POW/MIA families.

Janice Cox, widow of World War II POW survivor Gordon Cox, was also in attendance, as was Sandra Clements, daughter of Lasco Gilbert, the late Warm Springs Nation resident who served in World War II, was captured, but escaped, later survived a mortar attack, got out of the hospital to continue to fight with his Army unit. He received the Silver Star and Purple Heart. Gilbert died in 2006.

Gilbert's story was told by Warm Springs Tribal Council Member Raymond Moody, who represented Warm Springs at the event. He thanked the organizers for including Warm Springs in the ceremony, noting that the highway runs through the reservation.

"The road belongs to the families left behind. They carry the hurt," said Moody.

Other tribal involvement included that of Johnathan Courtney, an Iraq War veteran and Warm Springs veterans advocate, who presented the Pledge of Allegiance and also introduced the traditional Native American drum and song performance, from Collin Chief and Justin Laliberte, which helped kick off the dedication.

Shea Miller sung the National Anthem following the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance.

Later, Oregon legislators Sen. Tim Knopp, Rep. Cheri Helt and Rep. Daniel Bonham gave short addresses, as did Don Weber, head of the American Legion Department of Oregon.

Jefferson County American Legion Post 125 Commander Raleigh Swearingen read the national proclamation honoring POW/MIA Recognition Day by President Donald Trump, and local VFW Post 12141 Commander Len Hellwig read the state proclamation establishing U.S. Highway 26 as a POW/MIA Memorial Highway.

The unveiling of a commemorative sign was done by POW/MIA families, the Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association (which were key donors on the project), other donors and the legislators on hand, along with Tobiason.

Putting an exclamation point on the day was the VFW Post 12141's rifle salute followed by a moving rendition of "Taps" by father and daughter Gary and Amanda Plant, of Madras.

The other six dedication events in Oregon on Friday, noting 10 signs that were going up, were held in Seaside, Boring, Prineville, John Day and Vale.

Much of the heart-felt words at the Friday event could be summed up in four short words spoken by Tobiason: "Freedom is not free."

The highway sign that the Oregon Department of Transportation erected is located just north of Madras near Cherry Lane.


Other highways honoring war veterans in Oregon

U.S. Highway 395 - WW I Veterans Memorial Highway

U.S. Highway 97 - World War II Veterans Historic Highway

I-5 - Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway & Purple Heart Trail

I-84 - Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway

U.S. Highway 101 - Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Veterans Memorial Highway

U.S. Highway 20 - Oregon Medal of Honor Highway

U.S. Highway 26 - POW/MIA Memorial Highway

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