Seventy years to the day after Allied forces launched the invasion of Normandy that broke Nazi Germany’s hold on Western Europe, Central Oregon’s last living links to World War II gathered at Jake’s Diner in Bend for one more mission.
Bathed in the smell of motorcycle exhaust, a few cigars, and pancakes from the diner’s kitchen, around 50 local World War II veterans filed into buses and private cars to make the trip to Salem, where the state’s World War II memorial was dedicated Friday afternoon.
Escorted by deputies from the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and several dozen leather-clad riders with the Oregon Motorcycle Veterans Association, the group was sent off by a large crowd of flag-waving friends, family and well-wishers.
Friday’s trip to Salem was organized by the Oregon Band of Brothers, a veterans group with more than 1,000 members based in Bend that meets regularly at Jake’s.
Red Zufelt, 87, who served in the Navy in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, said Friday’s dedication ceremony was important for him and others who served. While some service members came home from World War II to parades and public adulation, most did not, Zufelt said.
“This means a lot to me. It’s the only recognition a lot of us got,” he said. “When I got back from the war, we just got off the ship and left.”
Dick Tobiason, a Vietnam veteran with the Bend Heroes Foundation, said World War II didn’t inspire Americans to build memorials in the same way as the conflicts that followed. Concerns over mistreatment of Vietnam veterans buoyed the effort to build Vietnam memorials, he said, just as the Korean War’s status as the “forgotten war” rallied support for Korean War memorials. But World War II, as the last war to be widely supported by the American people, simply faded into memory, Tobiason said.
“I blame it on my generation,” he said. “Why did our country build a Korean War memorial and a Vietnam war memorial before a World War II memorial? The younger veterans didn’t honor their elders.”
With the opening of the Salem memorial, an obelisk ringed by black stone panels engraved with the names of nearly 3,800 Oregonians who died in combat, Oregon becomes the 45th state to erect a World War II memorial. The national World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., opened in 2004.
Cliff Owens, a Vietnam-era Naval vet who helped recruit the motorcycle escort for Friday’s trip to Salem, said it has been an honor for him to get to know local World War II veterans through the Band of Brothers. Having breakfast with them is like “talking to history,” he said, and they deserve a memorial that will help tell their story after they’re gone.
“It’s way overdue. A lot of them who went through that never had the opportunity to be recognized with a memorial,” he said.
Nearly 70 years after the end of hostilities, the number of veterans who served in World War II is steadily shrinking. Tobiason said an estimated 20,800 World War II veterans live in Oregon, about 1,000 of them in Central Oregon. With the surviving veterans all at least in their late 80s, one in seven Oregonians who served during World War II is likely to die in the next year, he said.
Andy Knox, 91, said while the lack of a state memorial to World War II veterans hasn’t bothered him, it’s nice to be recognized after so many years.
Knox was in San Diego with the USS Harris, a transport ship, when word came in of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Within days the ship headed out for Hawaii, Harris said, a tension-riddled trip that culminated with the “sickening” sight of more than a dozen sunken or disabled ships.
Aside from that first trip to Pearl Harbor and a few beach assaults where “things got kind of hairy,” the war was good to Knox, he said. At the time, the gravity of the war, turning points like the invasion of Normandy, and the sacrifices of the men who fought and died were just the stuff of day-to-day life, he said, nothing anyone expected would end up on a memorial seven decades later.
“Probably the most important thing is, we had a job to do, we did our job, and then we went on with our lives,” Knox said. “We didn’t feel we did so damned much. Just like any other job, you do it.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, firstname.lastname@example.org