WHS freshman's Eagle Scout project honors military veterans at nearby Pleasant View Cemetery

More than 150 deceased military veterans will receive one final honor this spring, if Dawson Durig gets his way.

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - Dawson Durig is working on an ambitious project to earn his Eagle Scout award. His project will honor veterans interred at Pleasant View Cemetery.The Wilsonville High School freshman, a member of local Boy Scout Troop 194, is working his way through an ambitious Eagle Scout project that seeks to spruce up nearby Pleasant View Cemetery and honor the 169 veterans buried there.

In the course of his three-part Eagle project, Dawson this April first will clean and repaint the cemetery’s flagpole, which was placed there in 1969 by Sherwood’s American Legion. In March, a granite slab measuring 42 by 36 inches, engraved with the names of the veterans buried at the cemetery, will be placed at the flagpole’s base.

“That’s going to be the hub of my Eagle project,” Dawson said. “The flagpole is the center, and the spokes will be these medallions.”

Each veteran’s gravesite will be adorned with a solid bronze medallion that commemorates the veteran’s service. Made in Ohio, the medallions honor veterans of seven wars spanning two centuries. They will sit flush with the ground, to avoid destruction from lawnmowers, and will be securely attached with stainless steel bolts that are expected to endure nearly a century of Oregon weather.

Dawson found inspiration for the project in his own grandfather’s story — even though Dawson was never privileged to know the man.

“There was this man named Bill,” he said. “He was 17 and he joined World War II. He was a top gunner on a B17 and flew 32 missions over Germany.”

Mortality rates for soldiers in Bill’s position were high.

“He had a one-in-a-hundred chance of surviving,” Dawson said. “It was a suicide mission, that’s what it was.”

Against all odds, Bill did survive the war, and that is what gave Dawson the idea for his project.

“His story inspired me. ... My whole goal is to make sure these people get recognition. The whole goal is to be more aware of what veterans did,” Dawson said.

“This is what I expect from all my potential Eagle Scouts,” Dawson’s Scoutmaster, John Budiao, said. “That they do a project near and dear to their heart.”

Budiao has been available to offer advice and resources, but he said the energy and ideas are all Dawson’s.

“I gave Dawson the green light for his project and pointed him to a few people who could help him,” Budiao said. “He came back with a ‘home run’ of an older project and I was totally floored.”

One of the people Dawson turned to for assistance is Charlotte Lehan, Wilsonville’s former mayor, current city councilor and the president of the nonprofit Pleasant View Cemetery association’s board of directors. Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN FILE PHOTO: JOSH KULLA - Pleasant View is one of the biggest pioneer cemeteries in Oregon and includes the graves of 170 veterans of conflicts dating back to the 1830s. Dawson's project includes repainting the flagpole in the background of this photo and installing at its base a plaque commemorating veterans' service.

“It’s one of the biggest pioneer cemeteries in Oregon,” Lehan said. “We have close to 3,000 burials out there. We’re an active cemetery. It’s one of three cemeteries that close the area right around Wilsonville. And it’s by far the biggest.”

Lehan has worked with Scouts at the cemetery many times. But working with Dawson turned into a different kind of experience, she said.

“He was interested in doing a veterans project there and then we together met up there and kind of talked through what some of the possibilities were,” she said. “He came up with a plan on his own which I think is what Eagle Scouts do. He’s taken on a pretty large project in that it is quite multifaceted. The Eagle Scout projects in the past have been more limited in scope. This in many ways is really three projects really rolled up into one.”

Dawson has worked closely with the cemetery board as well as with the Sherwood American Legion. Those groups have helped him most by identifying the veterans buried on the cemetery grounds and by helping to verify their service.

“My only reservation has to do with the accuracy of the information. That’s what’s taken most of my time,” Lehan said. “But I’ve been working with a couple of the Legion guys and as many people as I could rope into it, to try and verify, confirm these guys. It is harder than you think to verify someone’s service.”

Photo Credit: SPOKESMAN PHOTO: KATE HOOTS - A bronze medallion will be placed at each veteran's gravesite, identifying the conflict that each man served in. Cemetery officials are still seeking service verification for about 20 men.Combing through cemetery records and Legion records yielded service verification information for about 150 of the veterans at Pleasant View. The cemetery maintains ledgers dating to the 1800s, including a list called the solder’s (sic) list, Lehan said, that was kept by a cemetery official of some kind. Notations by each veteran’s name indicate what war he served in.

“We did decide that we would not put people on the plaque unless we have at least one other piece of corroborating information,” Lehan said. “Now out of our list of 170 or so veterans through the Korean War, we’re down to 21, I think, that we don’t have any corroborating information for.”

The names of those 21 veterans will be left off the plaque — for now. Space will be left on the plaque so their names can be added later, if verification surfaces. There’s also space for living veterans who might eventually come to rest at Pleasant View.

The list of unverified veterans can be found online at Lehan urged the public to contact her by phone at 503-313-8040 if anyone can verify service for those remaining few. A photo or letter could be all that’s needed, she said.

“We’re not looking for their discharge papers to prove anything,” she said. “We just want somebody to say, ‘Yeah, I remember talking about Uncle Harry’s service.”

With great support from the cemetery board, the American Legion, Wilsonville Rotary Club and his troop, Dawson has been able to advance his project. The estimated total cost of $6,500 for all three phases is the last remaining hurdle. Local businesses have been supportive, and he has also received support from the American companies supplying the plaque and the medallions.

“So far, we’ve gotten everything at cost or subsidized,” he said.

Tax-deductible donations can be sent to Boy Scout Troop 194, 29030 SW Town Center Loop E., Suite 202-194 in Wilsonville, 97070. Checks should list “Dawson Durig Eagle Project” in the memo field. All funds received will go toward the cost of the plaque and medallions and help to honor veterans at Pleasant View through Dawson’s three-part project there.

“I wanted to do something that would last many, many years,” Dawson said. “It is a lot bigger (that other Eagle projects), but I think it’s more worth it that way. There’s a bigger outcome.”

By Kate Hoots
Education reporter
503-636-1281, ext. 112
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