WARRENTON — When Oregon House Bill 2036 became law last spring, U.S. Highway 101 became a 338-mile-long memorial to the veterans who served in the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the Iraq War.
But the highway signs honoring the state’s youngest veterans have only just started appearing.
The first of 11 planned signs — five facing northbound and six southbound — went up last month near the south end of Warrenton.
And the second sign — soon to be installed near Arch Cape — was unveiled Saturday morning during an indoor dedication ceremony at Camp Rilea headquarters before a roomful of veterans, their families, local dignitaries and supporters.
“Oregon is a great state for honoring veterans,” said Dick Tobiason, a Vietnam War veteran and chairman of the nonprofit Bend Heroes Foundation, which has led the charge to designate the state’s scenic highways as veterans memorial highways.
Honoring the living
The state law also designated U.S. Highway 395 as World War I Veterans Memorial Highway, and Interstate 5 as Korean War Veterans Memorial Highway and Purple Heart Trail. They join U.S. Highway 97 and Interstate 84 — known as World War II Veterans Historic Highway and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway — as a way to recognize veterans from border to border.
Of the 331,600 veterans living in Oregon — almost 1 in 12 Oregonians — nearly 90,000 served in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan or Iraq wars, including more than 4,000 now living in Clatsop County, according to the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.
The idea behind the Highway 101 signs — which read “Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, and Iraq Veterans Memorial Highway” — is to honor the veterans who served in recent wars while most of the men and woman are still alive.
However, “these are not just Oregon veterans we honor with these highway signs,” Tobiason said. Rather, the signs belong to any U.S. soldier who fought in the great wars of the last century. “That’s for everybody.”
‘Never going to forget’
Ten years ago, Tobiason and Bob Maxwell — a 95-year-old WWII veteran and the nation’s most senior living Medal of Honor recipient, who now resides in Bend — set out to create a war memorial highway for every war from WWI onward, representing the roughly 480,000 Oregonians who served in them.
After meetings with three governors, working with legislators and partnering with the state Department of Transportation and other veterans organizations, the vision is almost fully realized.
“We’re never going to forget any veteran in Oregon that served during war,” Tobiason said. “These highways will make sure that they’re honored and (let) the public know we care about them.”
Though veterans groups have donated to the signage project, the Bend Heroes Foundation wants county commissioners to publicly support the signs.
“County commissioners speak for their citizens,” Tobiason said. “We’d rather have citizens honoring veterans than veterans paying to honor themselves.”
The signs — each one 4 feet high by 8 feet wide — cost $900 to fabricate and install. The foundation needs between $5,000 and $6,000 to finish the signage for highways 101 and 395.
The money for the first Clatsop County sign came from Andrea Larson Perez, wife of former Camp Rilea Post Commander Dean Perez and author of a book on the camp’s history. The city of Warrenton, VFW Post 10580 and Astoria resident Gordon Treber Sr., the father of Sgt. James Treber, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2008, paid for the second.
State Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, the chairman of the Veterans and Emergency Preparedness Committee, wrote for the occasion: “Dedicating roadways in honor of veterans is a small gesture with a large purpose: it is one of the most public ways a society can remember its veterans and say ‘thank you.’”
Veterans who served during both wartime and peacetime are memorialized on Oregon’s highways by the Blue Star Memorial Highway signs posted at rest stops.
Rob Walker, a veteran of Iraq and director of the Bend Heroes Foundation, testified about the project in Salem. When he vacations at the Oregon Coast with his wife and 7-month-old son, Jack, the signs will remind him and his family that the state cares about his service, he said.
“I’m going to be extremely proud when (Jack) sees it and understands what it means, not only to me but to him as well,” Walker said.
Donors can be reached at:
Bend Heroes Foundation
ATTN: US Hwy 101 Signs
1900 NE 3rd St., Ste 106 #205
Bend, OR 97702
Dick Tobiason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and at 541-390-9932.