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May-30-2007 04:59TweetFollow @OregonNews
Salem, Oregon Honors War Dead on Memorial Day (VIDEO)Tim King Salem-News.com
"It’s a really exclusive club that you don’t want to belong to." - Clay Kesterson, Gold Star Father
(SALEM, Ore.) - A Memorial Day ceremony in Salem at the newly built Afghan-Iraq Freedom Memorial drew hundreds Monday, hundreds who gathered to pay their respects for the people who have given their all, and for all who served.
The Patriot Guard Motorcycle Club showed en masse, with riders from all over Oregon on all kinds of motorcycles, many bearing American flags.
Construction contractor Bill McMichael is a former Marine. He’s one of the people who brought the memorial project together.
I asked him if it was a grand moment, after laboring so hard to bring the memorial from a drawing, to reality.
Bill McMichael says it took three years to pull it off, to put it all together.
"This is an $800,000 memorial built out of in kind donations and labor. What was real impressive, I was told so many times that, ‘there’s no way you’re going to be able to do this in eight weeks.’"
But contractors from all over Oregon chipped in and pulled together and labored day and night to complete the first war memorial ever built during the war it honors. Bill smiles as he reflects on what led to the finished tribute.
The memorial exists for thousands, but it was inspired by the loss of Erik Kesterson. His parents, Clay and M.J. Kesterson, led the drive to build this tribute, the first of its type anywhere in the nation.
Clay Kesterson says it has been helpful to have such an important goal to stay focused on.
"It keeps you going, being involved in something like this. I mean the pain and the grief never goes away obviously, but this gives us something to do every day, keep involved with the other Gold Star families, try to keep them together and support them."
Memorial Day ceremonies in like this one took place all over Oregon. And while large numbers gathered today to pay their respects, some, like the Patriot Guard Motorcycle Club riders, try to make the act of honoring those who die in war a regular part of their lives.
"I have been on over 200 missions and 150 confirmed funerals alone."
He considers his work almost military in nature; each mission he refers to was a trip to some part of the northwest to photograph a funeral or memorial service for a grieving family at no cost, as long as he is invited. Q is a veteran himself, though he draws no attention to that.
Q. needsd ongoing support for travel and fuel costs. Please visit IraqWarHeroes.org and make sure his unusual and important mission continues. On this day, it strikes me that few do as much as Q. to make sure the nation never again sees veterans belittled in public like they were during Vietnam.
Speakers at today’s event talked about the fallen from so many wars, saying it is important to remember them all.
Clay Kesterson says being part of a Gold Star family is nothing people volunteer for. "It’s a really exclusive club that you don’t want to belong to."
This was my first national tribute event since returning from Afghanistan a few months ago, where I was embedded as a reporter with the Oregon National Guard for two months. Covering the war and getting to know those who lost friends in both Afghanistan and Iraq only deepened my personal respect for all who serve, particularly in combat zones.
It is sadly true that many people will really never appreciate the immensity that the loss of these individuals represents for their families, but we can hope that events like this and the creation of a beautiful and heartfelt memorial in Oregon, and a special Website that is a tribute to each and every soldier killed in the wars, will help. Supporting and loving those who serve is never a matter of politics.
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