Veteran bikers stop in Madras
About 100 people gathered at the memorial plaza in front of Madras City Hall Saturday, June 27, as the Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association dedicated a sign designating Highway 26 as a POW/MIA Memorial Highway.
Veterans from across the state and rode from Seaside to Ontario over two days, stopping in Madras before spending the night in Prineville.
Among them were Len Parsons, Craig McDonald and Fred Beebee, of Madras.
Parsons, who spent 20 years in the U.S. Navy, said he was riding for "the 82,000 that didn't come home."
He appreciated the camaraderie of the group.
"Last year I did the Run for the Wall," he said, referencing a ride to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. "This is somewhat of a replacement, not entirely."
Sherrie Lockwood and Jan McDonald waited at the plaza for the parade of motorcycles to drive up, escorted by the Madras Police Department. Both are members of the VFW Auxiliary.
Navy veteran Stephen Baxter was also in the crowd, along with his children, Riley, 11, Grace, 7, and Zoey, 4, who waved flags to welcome the bikers.
In the meantime, Dick Tobiason, a veterans advocate with the Bend Heroes Foundation, was helping to set up, while Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 personnel raised a flag on a ladder truck.
Dennis Guthrie, of Redmond, said the association hopes to make the ride an annual event.
"It's just to keep it in the minds of the people that we have individual families out here that haven't had any closure," he said.
When all of the riders gathered, association state president Ray Rose led of a moment of silence, and another member offered a prayer for a safe trip and for comfort for families of prisoners of war and those missing in action.
Rose then told the story of Senior Master Sgt. Benny Lee Dexter, of Bend, who was captured and killed in Vietnam. His remains were never recovered.
"I knew Benny Dexter's mom," Rose said. "She was a great lady."
Rose introduced Tobiason and surprised him with a lifetime membership in the Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association, along with a leather vest.
Tobiason said Dexter's sister would have come to the event, but she is susceptible to COVID-19 and so stayed home in Bend.
Tobiason said he had been working with the Oregon Department of Transportation for 12 years on different projects honoring veterans.
The sign dedicated at the ceremony will be installed across from another recognizing World War II veterans north of Madras on Sept. 18.
"This is the very first that stretches across an entire state," Tobiason said. "This is serious stuff because the public doesn't know anything about POW-MIAs. You're doing a great thing for the families, letting them know you care. ... YOu bought that sign. No one else has done that."
Tobiason walked to the veterans memorial in the plaza and called out the names of those listed that were either prisoners of war or missing in action — Earl Elliot, Virgil Degner, George Swetland, William Kinkade and Thomas Tucker. He was buried near a civilian POW from Madras, Tobiason said.
Mayor Richard Ladeby thanked the veterans for stopping in Madras.
"We are very honored that you guys are coming to our community," he said, adding that the city would support an annual event.
Before leaving, a flag draped over the highway sign was removed, revealing it. And then the veterans and supporters signed the back.
Eddie Milleger and his wife, Kyle, were among them. They spent their 31st wedding anniversary riding the 1,000 miles from San Demas, California, to join the ride.
Eddie served in the Marines from 1975 to 1977, and the two are involved with the Patriot Guard Riders.
Kyle is on the group's mission operations team, which works with families of active military, veterans and first responders who have died. They also attend funerals for those who die without families, which total five to 10 a month, she said.
The group formed in response to protests of troops' funerals by Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas. The Patriot Guard Riders formed a line to shield families from the protesters. Now the California group does 50 to 60 missions a month, Kyle said. Oregon also has an active group.
Once the sign was covered, Madras Police escorted the riders out of town.
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