Kreg Viestenz was just 19 when he died in Vietnam.
A Private First Class in the U.S. Army’s First Air Cavalry Division, Viestenz took a bullet on Sept. 18, 1968, in Quang Tri Province. He had arrived in Southeast Asia only a month earlier. According to reports, he was administering first aid to his wounded platoon leader when he was struck down during a search-and-clear mission.
Kreg Viestenz was my friend. His home was only a few blocks from mine in Eugene, where we went to grade school and graduated from high school together. We both attended the University of Oregon until he left school to enlist halfway through his freshman year.
Today, each time I visit the Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Portland’s Washington Park, I shed a few tears at the foot of the polished stone wall upon which his name appears. It’s engraved in white upon black marble, in a stylish sans-serif font, at the bottom of a column that lists 22 other soldiers killed in 1968.
I cry for Kreg. For Army SP4 Michael Bartell, 22, of Portland. For Marine PFC Bruce Carter, 18, of Milton-Freewater. For every one of the 710 Oregon soldiers honored here among the tall firs of Hoyt Arboretum. I honor their commitments to this country, but I cry for the families they left behind and for the families that they never sired.
More than 47,000 American soldiers were killed on the battlefield during the Vietnam War between 1955 and 1975. I know no one of my generation who was not touched on some level with a sense of loss from that conflict. And I know that other generations, before and after my own, have had a similar experience.
The Korean War (1950-53) took more than 33,000 lives. World War II (1937-45) saw 291,000 American men and women lose their lives in combat. More recently, in the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan since 2001, the death toll is approaching 7,000.
Today, Veterans Day, is a day that was set aside to honor all American war veterans, living and dead. President Woodrow Wilson declared the holiday in 1919, as Armistice Day following World War I, in memory of those “who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory.”
It was expanded to include all vets and renamed in 1947.
Make plans today, or sometime soon, to visit a veterans memorial to pay tribute to those who have fought to protect American freedom. The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA) lists more than 200 sculptures, plaques and other tributes to veterans, in 111 Oregon communities. The full list is available on its website, www.oregon.gov/odva/.
Unsurprisingly, Oregon’s largest city and the state’s capital have the largest number of memorials.
My favorite, as I said, is the 3¼-acre Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington Park’s Hoyt Arboretum in Portland. Just uphill from the Oregon Zoo and World Forestry Center, a paved, wheelchair-accessible walkway spirals around a finely manicured Garden of Solace, a circular lawn surrounded by hedges and flowers.
The walkway winds in a counterclockwise direction, passing marble walls that identify the war’s victims. Along with the list of names, engraved texts describe the progression of the Vietnam War, interspersed with events back home in Oregon during the same time span to give perspective. A plaque in remembrance of soldiers missing in action fills the final wall before the walkway continues into the Arboretum.
At the heart of downtown Portland is a Civil War memorial unveiled in 1928: a 10-foot bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln. He stands with bowed head, in deep sadness over the most devastating war in American history. So moving is the South Park Blocks tribute that the entire block, between Madison and Main streets, is known as Lincoln Square.
Also downtown is a replica of the Liberty Bell, a commemoration of the American War of Independence, outside of City Hall on Fourth Avenue between Madison and Jefferson streets. And a few blocks away, on the banks of the Willamette River north of the Burnside Bridge (Naito Parkway and Front Avenue), stands the city’s U.S. Merchant Marine and Liberty Ship Memorial.
Across the river in northeast Portland, a Korean War Memorial — a wall of black marble with engraved gold-leaf lettering — is in the South Court area of Memorial Coliseum. On Sandy Boulevard at Northeast 48th Avenue stands a flagpole that is lit day and night to honor veterans. And in Willamette National Cemetery (Mount Scott Boulevard at Southeast 112th Avenue), an impressive Korean Veterans War Memorial of three polished, black-granite walls that was dedicated in 1996 to honor Oregon veterans of the Korean War.
The greatest concentration of veterans’ memorials are in Salem, on the grounds of the ODVA Veterans’ Building (700 Summer Street Northeast), a few blocks north of the State Capitol.
Most impressive of the lot is the elegant Afghan-Iraqi Freedom Memorial, dedicated on this date six years ago. A soldier kneels above an illuminated, circular fountain designed to resemble the globe, a stream of water shooting upward from its center. Facing the fountain to the east, a polished granite wall — with the engraved declaration, “Freedom Isn’t Free” — honors 133 (and counting) Oregon men and women who have died in the war against terror.
In the same area, on the north side of the Veterans Building, is a Veterans of Foreign Wars Monument with a soldier atop a globe; a Korean War Memorial shaped like a temple gateway; and a small obelisk that pays tribute to Oregon’s Medal of Honor winners.
The grounds also feature a World War I “doughboy” statue honoring Salem-area soldiers “who made the supreme sacrifice”; a plaque honoring Spanish-American War veterans; and the bell from the USS Sederstrom, a famed World War II destroyer named for a Salem naval officer who was killed in the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
On either side of the State Capitol, surrounding the U.S. and state flagpoles, 13 granite pillars make up the Oregon Veterans Medal of Honor Memorial, dedicated in 2004. Attached to each is a bronze plaque with an image of the medal recipient and full text of his official citation. Another pillar carries a plaque that acknowledges Medal of Honor recipients with ties to Oregon, but who did not enter the service from this state.
Another monument is under construction on the west side of the State Capitol campus: Ground was broken in June for an Oregon World War II Memorial, highlighted by a five-sided, 33-foot-tall granite obelisk. Honoring the 3,758 Oregonians who died during the Second World War in Europe and in the Pacific, it is being erected near the intersection of Court and Cottage streets.
The most elaborate veterans’ memorial outside of Portland and Salem may be the one that dominates 5 1/2-acre Town Center Park in Wilsonville, about halfway between the two cities.
The Oregon Korean War Memorial, dedicated in 2000, features a 109-foot wall of red Carnelian granite, upon which are engraved the names of 287 Oregonians killed, and nine missing in action, during the Korean War. Two rows of cherry trees line a 500-foot concrete path that curves past bronze plaques that describe the war’s progress in considerable detail.
The flags of the United States, South Korea, Oregon and the United Nations fly above the wall and a brick terrace bearing the names of donors who contributed to build the $450,000 memorial. One 15-foot section honors the Korean nation, which lost nearly 1 million of its people in the war.
Just completed in Canby is the Vietnam Era Veterans’ Memorial, on state Highway 99 East near the Canby Square Shopping Center. It was designed, according to its website, as “an extraordinary place of healing that honors everyone who served our nation during the Vietnam War Era.”
In the heart of the small park, a “Huey” medevac helicopter hovers above a stylized landing pad. A statue depicts a soldier carrying a wounded comrade whose hand is held by a young Vietnamese girl. A Buddhist temple bell beside a water feature bears the inscription, in Vietnamese, “Believe in peace.”
The Sandy Veterans Memorial, at the west entrance to downtown on U.S. Highway 26, is an eight-foot bronze statue of a soldier that honors all veterans with the words, “Never to be forgotten.”
The I-5 corridor
Many of the communities along Interstate 5, and within a few miles of the freeway, offer their own tributes to military veterans. These are some of the memorials, from north to south:
In St. Paul Pioneer Cemetery, a Wall of Remembrance honors all early pioneers and Native Americans known to have been interred in the cemetery. Many of their graves were inadvertently bulldozed in the 1930s in a misguided cleanup attempt.
On the lawn of the Yamhill County Courthouse in McMinnville, the statue of an armed soldier stands in tribute to veterans of all wars. The former military training site at Adair Village, north of Corvallis, honors World War II veterans with engraved stones in the Camp Adair Memorial Garden. In Eugene’s Skinner Butte Park, 451 Lane County veterans, killed in wars from World War I through Desert Storm, are cited on a marble Wall of Honor memorial.
About 15 miles south of Roseburg, in Myrtle Creek, the Veterans Memorial and Rose Garden features a stonework wall with bronze plaques listing names of veterans killed in World Wars I and II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf.
Grants Pass has two memorials in Riverside Park, five blocks apart, honoring Josephine County veterans, including “the wounded, the disabled and the MIA-POW.” In nearby Merlin is the Josephine County Veterans Walk of Honor and Memorial. In Medford, the Veterans Park Memorial has seven pedestals that pay tribute to the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, National Guard and Merchant Marine. Another monument displays the names of 368 men from southern Oregon killed in action.
The Oregon Coast was more involved in World War II than most people know: The only incident of Japanese bombing on the American mainland during World War II took place at Brookings. In September 1942, a submarine-based Yokosuka seaplane dropped two small bombs into the coastal forest off Constitution Way — but rain and heavy mist prevented them from igniting even a small fire. A historical marker recalls the event.
In Brookings’ Ward Memorial Cemetery, a new veterans’ memorial was dedicated on Memorial Day 2012, its memorial walkway passing a row of 3-by-6-foot marble panels reminiscent of the national Vietnam Veterans Wall in Washington, D.C. On July 4, 35 miles up U.S. Highway 101 in Gold Beach, ground was broken on a new Curry County Veterans Memorial.
Reedsport’s Masonic Cemetery features a granite gravestone placed by the American Legion for an Unknown Soldier, whose uniformed remains washed up on a beach during World War II. Florence’s Veterans Memorial Park, beside the Siuslaw River in Old Town, features a memorial wall whose bricks are inscribed with the names of veterans.
In Newport’s Nye Beach area, the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk Memorial exhibits a “history-telling wall” installed in 2005. In the Siletz Native American Cemetery, 20 miles northeast, the Native American Veterans Memorial lists all Siletz tribe members who served in all branches of the Armed Forces.
A memorial in Depoe Bay Park, dedicated on Veterans Day 1999, is a cement pyramid that honors all veterans. Inside it was placed a time capsule with personal stories, business cards and newspaper stories.
On the west side of the Chinook Winds Casino in Lincoln City, the American Veterans and Desert Storm Memorial pays tribute to past and present veterans. Designed by Shilo Inns owner Mark Hemstreet, it was dedicated in 1994.
The Gorge and east
One of Oregon’s most memorable sites is the Mid-Columbia Veterans Memorial, which overlooks the Columbia River and the city of The Dalles from the heights of Kelly Viewpoint, at Sorosis Park. Four separate monuments stand here, including stones that honor veterans of the Spanish-American War, the Vietnam War and Desert Storm. Another pays tribute to a Dalles serviceman, Loren Kaufman, awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea in 1950.
The principal memorial, topped by a bronze eagle taking flight, features a bronze cast of a Second World War soldier. He is surrounded by 58 tiny plaques, each of which lists a different conflict to which American soldiers responded between 1898 and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Although the population of the eastern half of Oregon is sparse, there are more communities here with veterans memorials — more than 30, by the ODVA’s count — than in any other part of the state.
Four stones placed in Pendleton’s Veterans Memorial Gardens by the Veterans of Foreign Wars carry the names of Umatilla County soldiers killed or declared missing in action during 20th-century wars. A fifth stone symbolizes those who may later lose their lives in war. On the nearby Umatilla Indian Reservation, in the center of the tribal government complex, the Nix Ya Warriors Memorial honors veterans of the Umatilla, Walla Walla and Cayuse tribes.
Harney County’s largest flag, 30 feet high and 50 feet long, flies from a 120-foot flagpole that is illuminated 24 hours a day. Beside U.S. Highway 20 near the city lines of Hines and Burns, it remembers veterans who served and died for this country.
A flag terrace in John Day’s Malone Park, north of the Grant County Fairgrounds, honors “those who served our country, and in particular those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”
In front of the Malheur County Courthouse in Vale, an upright granite stone features a brass plaque with a dedication “to those who offered their lives to the Great War of Nations, 1914-1918.”
There are at least 18 war memorials in Central Oregon, according to the ODVA, and eight of them are in Bend.
Deschutes Memorial Garden offers four. Most visible is a curved, 27-foot block wall, dedicated to all veterans, that surrounds a 50-foot flagpole with a plaque at its base that specifically honors Korean War veterans. Another 5-foot-high, 7-foot-long granite memorial lists 27 Central Oregonians killed in Vietnam.
In front of the Deschutes County Courthouse, a lighted flagpole rises above a 6-by-6-foot concrete memorial that honors veterans and first responders. Far more recent in construction is the Randy Lee Newman Memorial Walkway, which crosses Veterans Memorial Bridge on Newport Avenue at Drake Park. Dedicated five years ago, it is marked by a pair of granite monuments.
Sunriver, as many people know, had its origin as the Army Corps of Engineers’ Camp Abbot training facility during World War II. Plaques and photographs may be seen in the Great Hall and at the Sunriver Nature Center. South of Sunriver, at Milepost 8 on South Century Drive, the Robert D. Maxwell Veterans Memorial Bridge honors all past, present, and future veterans from Deschutes County.
There’s one veterans’ memorial in Sisters and three in Prineville. In Redmond, a concrete-block memorial stands at the base of a flagpole in the center of Redmond Memorial Cemetery. It is dedicated “in memory of those men and women who gave their lives for their country.”
The Rex T. Barber Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Crooked River on U.S. Highway 97 at Milepost 112, honors World War II fighter pilot Barber, a native of Culver. And Cal Butler Veterans Memorial Parkway, which bypasses downtown Redmond on U.S. 97, is named for the Redmond native who flew patrol at Omaha Beach during the D-Day landing and who returned home to found Butler Aircraft.
Barber and Butler were lucky. They lived full lives. Barber was 84 when he died in 2001. Butler died in 2004 at the age of 85.
I wonder what Kreg Viestenz might have done with his life, were he with us today.