Veteran Healing Memorial aims to combat suicide
Countless hands – and hearts – have helped create a quiet space for healing.
As the Veteran Healing Memorial nears completion, organizers plan a dedication ceremony on Korean Armistice Day, Tuesday, July 27.
"We hope it will be a healing place for lots of people. If they have a place to gather, I hope they feel like life is worth living," said Jefferson County Community Center Director Louise Muir, who helped oversee the project.
Situated southwest of the Community Center building on the center's property in Madras, the Veteran Healing Memorial features an octagon-shaped cement base encircled by seven flagpoles that fly the American, Prisoner of War and the branches of the military flags. A fire pit sits in the middle of seven metal benches, and a wooden eagle statue and picnic tables complete the memorial. A light sits atop each flagpole, illuminating the flags at night.
"The whole purpose, this is the mission, is to stop or remove suicide," said local Army veteran Shawn Stanfill, who has headed up the project. He noted that 22 veterans take their own lives each day.
It was originally planned to combat veteran suicide, but Stanfill said they opened it to anyone affected by suicide.
"It is for the community, but it is hopefully going to help with alleviating the rate of suicide for everyone, because suicide doesn't just affect that person, it affects so many people and for so many years," Muir said. "It's there to help keep people from doing that, if they want to just go there and contemplate, have some quiet time. It's to help people heal and get past whatever is going on in their life."
Jefferson County Lead Veterans' Service Officer Laura Moore had wanted to do something like this and shared the idea with local veterans.
"Shawn got really concerned with all the suicide rates for veterans, and he wanted to do it, so he took charge," Muir said.
That was in 2018. Stanfill reached out to various groups and secured countless donations. Jefferson County, the City of Madras and the Community Center lent their support. Veterans from the local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars helped get the project off the ground.
Jefferson County Sheriff deputies brought jail inmates to clear out the space and spread the donated gravel. The county covered the cost of the octagon-shaped cement pad. Swift Steel donated the steel for the benches, and Deer Ridge Correctional Institution inmates constructed them. Commercial Powder Coating in Bend powder coated the flagpoles and benches without charge.
Stanfill and his fellow Vietnam veteran buddies Craig McDonald and Fred Beebee – with the help of free equipment rentals from Bullet Rental – installed the flagpoles and rigged the flags in early June. They installed the benches last week.
He said Beebee was in the Air Force, and his equipment skills were needed for the project. McDonald was in the Army and is a machinist.
"I'm an Army guy, and I had to learn the Navy knot, so it took hours," chuckled Stanfill as he pointed to the knots that keep the flags in place on the flagpoles. "My world was tanks and armored cavalry for 23 years. Some of it in the Guard, some active, and another bunch of years in government security."
"It's been a work of a lot of people putting their time and effort into it," Muir said.
The names of deceased veterans will appear on small plates on each flagpole. The bench titled "All gave some, but some gave all" is engraved with the names of soldiers who gave their lives during war, including the War on Terror, as well as a few names from Coalition Nations. The "In memory, lest we forget" bench is engraved with the names of veterans. There's a bench for each branch of the military, and an eighth bench sits on the nearby Community Center patio, honoring first responders.
They hope to add a light pole with outlets and some additional irrigation.
Organizers would like the Veteran Healing Memorial dedication ceremony to be on a patriotic day, so they are aiming for July 27, the day the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed in 1953. The event will most likely feature the Honor Guard, the National Anthem and a speaker.
"We're talking about having a small barbecue, just to say thank you to everybody who has been supportive and helping, but it's open to the public," Muir said of the event. "We just want people to come and enjoy and see what's been done."
The space has already been used for a couple of veteran memorials, and the American Legion hosted a Flag Retirement ceremony on Flag Day. Muir encourages families to gather there and for clubs to hold meetings at the memorial.
"It is to prevent all suicide. It started as and will continued to be called Veteran Healing Memorial, but it is for everybody to come and use and enjoy and help take care of," Muir said.
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