Who is Bob Maxwell?

Robert Dale Maxwell was born in Boise, Idaho in 1920. Maxwell joined the Army in Colorado shortly after the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He was trained as a “wire man” stringing communications cables and wires alongside combat units of the 3rd Battalion, 7th Infantry. Maxwell served in the invasions of North Africa, Sicily and the Italian mainland. Wounded at Anzio, Maxwell was able to return to his unit after months in the hospital. On Sept 7, 1944, Maxwell and several other soldiers were working near Besançon in eastern France when a German grenade landed among them. Knowing the grenade could kill all the soldiers, Maxwell jumped on it and absorbed the blast with his body. Severely wounded, he received the Medal of Honor on April 6, 1945.

History of the Medal of Honor

There have been 3,500 recipients of the Medal of Honor since it was created in 1862 during the Civil War.

According to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, Bernard J.D. Irwin was involved in the earliest actions to receive the medal when he led a detachment of the 7th Infantry to relieve encircled troops in Arizona. But Irwin’s Medal was not awarded until January 24, 1894. Pvt. Jacob Parrott was the first of six men who received the Medal of Honor for their actions in “The Great Locomotive Chase” of April 1862.

The most recent recipient is Sgt. Gary Rose, an Army special forces medic who in 1970 braved heavy enemy fire to save several lives during a four-day battle. He did not receive the award until October 2017 because his actions took place in Laos, where U.S. forces were officially not engaged in ground combat.

Dr. Mary Walker, a surgeon during the Civil War, is the only woman to receive the Medal of Honor. She received the medal in 1865 for saving lives during several Civil War battles and enduring four months as a prisoner of war of the Confederates. Because she was not officially a soldier, her award required a special dispensation by President Andrew Johnson. When Congress sought to elevate the status of the Medal of Honor in 1917, it purged the names of 910 recipients who received the medal for actions such as simply re-enlisting. Walker’s Medal of Honor was among those rescinded. Her medal was restored by President Jimmy Carter in 1977.

Hopes for a coast-to-coast route honoring the nation’s bravest came a step closer Monday when a marker on U.S. Highway 20 outside of Bend was unveiled.

Bob Maxwell of Bend, at 97, the oldest living recipient of the nation’s highest honor for bravery, was on hand for the ceremony on Highway 20, the “Oregon Medal of Honor Highway.”

The ceremony at milepost 9 between Bend and Sisters was spearheaded by the Bend Heroes Foundation.

“The plan is for 12 signs from the Coast to the Idaho border,” said Dick Tobiason, chairman of the Bend Heroes Foundation.

A preliminary version of the Three Sisters viewpoint sign was erected last October, but supporters had to wait until Monday to attach images of the three versions of the Medal of Honor — Army, Navy and Air Force. The first Oregon sign is in place in Newport, the western terminus of Highway 20. The ceremony for the Bend area sign was held because it is near the home of Maxwell, the oldest of the 71 living Medal of Honor recipients, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

Of the 16.1 million men and women who served in the military during World War II, 472 received the Medal of Honor. Maxwell is one of just four alive today.

The designation for the 451-mile stretch of Highway 20 from Newport to Nyssa to honor Oregon’s Medal of Honor recipients was approved last year by the Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown.

Supporters hope to eventually have the entire length of Highway 20 — from Newport on the Pacific Ocean to Boston on the Atlantic Ocean — dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients. At 3,365 miles, U.S. Highway 20 is the longest highway in the United States.

In addition to the highway project, Bend Heroes Foundation is raising funds to erect a marker in each Oregon community with a connection to a Medal of Honor recipient.

— Reporter: 541-525-5280, gwarner@bendbulletin.com