By Dick Tobiason

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The United States Congress created “National Medal of Honor Day” in 1990. It is always celebrated on March 25. The objective is to honor recipients of our nation’s highest military award for acting with conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty during combat. The first awards were presented to six Civil War veterans who participated in the “Great Locomotive Chase” in 1862. Since then, over 3,500 awards have been presented to veterans of all branches of our Armed Forces including one woman — Union Army Dr. Mary Walker.

Twenty-nine of the 3,505 Medal of Honor medals were awarded to veterans connected with Oregon. They served in 10 countries from the Civil War to the Vietnam War. The only Medal of Honor recipient living in Oregon is Bend’s WWII U.S. Army veteran Robert D. “Bob” Maxwell. At 98 years young, Mr. Maxwell is the oldest of all 72 recipients living in our nation today.

Bend Heroes Foundation, the Oregon Legislature and Oregon Department of Transportation created six border-to-border veterans highways honoring almost a half-million veterans who served during WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf/Afghanistan/Iraq wars and the 29 Medal of Honor recipients.

The honors take the form of 79 large highway signs installed along 2,500 miles of U.S. Highway 20, U.S. Highway 97, U.S. Highway 101, U.S. Highway 395, Interstate-5 and I-84. The WWII Veterans Historic Highway on U.S. Highway 97 and the Oregon Medal of Honor Highway on U.S. Highway 20 intersect in Bend.

Mr. Maxwell participated in the Oregon Medal of Honor Highway legislative effort and bill signing ceremony with Gov. Kate Brown in Bend as well as dedicating signs near Bend and Newport. The last of 12 “Oregon Medal of Honor Highway” signs installed on the 451-mile Highway 20 between Newport and the Oregon-Idaho border was dedicated May 2. That highway is the first of its kind in our nation honoring all of a state’s Medal of Honor recipients.

Historic U.S. Highway 20 spans our nation between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Traveling through 12 states and at 3,365 miles long, it is the longest highway in the U.S. As envisioned in the Oregon Medal of Honor Highway legislation, Bend Heroes Foundation is working with veterans and state legislators in the 11 states east of Oregon to create the National Medal of Honor Highway across America. Two-thirds of all 3,505 Medal of Honor recipients are connected with the 12 states. Idaho and Wyoming have just designated 901 miles of their U.S. 20 highways as Medal of Honor Highways. Including Oregon’s Medal of Honor Highway, the National Highway now stretches 40 percent of the distance between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

In companion legislation initiated by Bend Heroes Foundation, the foundation will dedicate “Medal of Honor City” displays in the 12 cities to which Oregon’s 29 recipients are connected. The dedication of the “Bend Medal of Honor City” display at the Dec. 5 Bend City Council meeting is another first in the nation.

Bend Heroes Foundation and its partners created the “Oregon Medal of Honor Exhibit” at the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum in McMinnville.

The exhibit displays a photograph and Medal of Honor citation for each recipient, a map of the locations around the world where the recipients fought, the history of the Medal of Honor and two interactive kiosks.

Bend Heroes Foundation has requested that Congress rename five VA medical facilities in Oregon for WWII and Vietnam Medal of Honor recipients. The VA Clinic in Bend would be renamed the “Robert D. Maxwell VA Clinic.”

All of the above is meant to help the Congressional Medal of Honor Society carry out its mission:

“… Perpetuate the legacy of the Medal of Honor through education and outreach and to support the recipients of the Medal of Honor.”

— Dick Tobiason is chairman of the Bend Heroes Foundation.

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