THE DALLES Mayor Steve Lawrence, right, a decorated Army veteran from Vietnam, is shown with one of the 15 signs that will grace Interstate 84, which has been named the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway from Interstate 205 to the Idaho border. Standing with Lawrence, from right, are: Mike Carter, who served in the Army; Terry Low, also Army; Lyle Hicks, Navy; J.W. Terry, Navy; Ron Morgan, president of the Oregon Council of Vietnam Veterans of America; Al Jones, Army; and, Dick Tobiason, co-chair of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway Committee. A dedication for the signs will take place at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony in The Dalles.
Vietnam Veterans will play a lead role in the second of two Monday Memorial Day observances.
“This is a perfect opportunity to honor our Vietnam veterans who have really led the way for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans to not have to deal with the same type of public backlash that they faced,” said Dallas Swafford, a former sergeant in the Oregon National Guard.
He will serve as master of ceremonies for the May 26 program that begins at 1 p.m. in the community room of the Oregon Veterans’ Home, 700 Veterans Drive.
Swafford is state liaison officer for the home and said the torch of patriotism is now being passed from aging Korean War and World War II veterans to those from the Vietnam conflict.
“We have the opportunity on Monday to pay respects to these veterans, something that is long overdue,” he said.
The program includes the presentation of a state flag to Marsha Morrison, the widow of Al Morrison, an Army veteran from the Vietnam conflict and long-time advocate for active-duty troops and those who have served.
Morrison died on July 2, 2013, at his home in The Dalles and was honored by the Patriot Guard Riders and community members for his service. He worked as veterans’ representative for the Oregon Employment Department and volunteered with several service organizations.
“Because Al did so much for veterans we wanted to present his wife with a flag that has been flown over the capital in his honor,” said Swafford. “To me, he really epitomized what service is all about.”
Monday’s invocation will be given by Marine Corps Capt. (retired) Dan Brophy of The Dalles. Also a Vietnam veteran, Brophy plans to share a little known story about the establishment of Memorial Day.
Although there is debate about where the first observance of what was once called Decoration Day took place, Brophy said the book, “Race and Religion: The Civil War in American Memory” by Professor David W. Blight makes the case for Charleston, S.C., being the birthplace.
He chronicles how about 10,000 black children and adults, joined by some white citizens, decorated the graves of 257 Union soldiers on May 1, 1865, and converted the former race course into a proper cemetery. They reportedly sang “America,” “We’ll Rally Around the Flag,” and “The Star Spangled Banner” as they marched and worked.
“This is a sacred day to those of us who have lost brothers in battle,” said Brophy. “It is not a ‘holiday,’ it is a time to remember America’s war dead.”
Beth Lawrence, an opera major at Portland State University and daughter of The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence, will sing the National Anthem at the ceremony.
Lawrence, a decorated Army veteran from Vietnam, will talk about what it means to have Interstate 84 dedicated as Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway.
Last Friday, he and five other local veterans from the Vietnam conflict helped Oregon Department of Transportation officials install one of the 15 brown signs with white letters. The signs will soon be up along a 370-mile stretch of freeway, from the junction of Interstate 205 in Portland to the Idaho border.
“It feels like Vietnam vets are reorganizing,” said Lawrence at the May 16 installation.
Vietnam Veterans of America members raised funds for the signs so taxpayer dollars did not have to be spent on the project.
Ron Morgan, president of the state council of that organization, said the memorial highway pays tribute to the 719 men and women from Oregon who lost their lives in the Vietnam War, and the 38 soldiers and one civilian still missing in action.
About 118,000 Vietnam veterans call Oregon home and represent about one-third of the veteran population in the state.
Swafford said one of the new signs will be unveiled at the ceremony, where Morgan and Dick Tobias, co-chair of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway Committee, will speak.
Oregon Rep. John Huffman, an Army veteran who lives in The Dalles, helped gain passage of legislation for the memorial highway and will say a few words. Also taking the podium will be Ed Van Dike, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Refreshments will be served after the program concludes with Taps by John Pierson, an Air Force veteran.
People who want to help pay for the signs and their installation can make checks payable to VVA OSC and mail then to Oregon State Council Treasurer Clyde Evans at P.O. Box 1221, La Pine, Ore. 97739.