By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes

An effort to recognize veterans with a simple thank you – a parking space just for them – has caught fire.

John Rizzo founded the nonprofit organization that is putting them up. He started watching a program on veterans injured and being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He was convinced he had to do something.

“By the end of the show I had tears in my eyes,” Rizzo said. “And I thought there has to be a way to thank these people more than once a year. They had such positive attitudes, even though the rest of their lives were going to be burdened from this war.”

Rizzo, who served in the Vietnam war as a flight medic, started at home, convincing the Keizer City Council to put one up at city hall. The sign simply says “Veterans Parking Only.”

Since then Rizzo’s group has put up some 39 signs – an impressive feat when you consider the group has been in operation less than a year.

“It’s grown up now,” Rizzo said. Many are in the Salem-Keizer area, with businesses like Keizer Liquors, Mommy and Maddi’s, McNary Golf Club and the Keizer Renaissance Inn among those offering them. The Elks and Veterans of Foreign Wars have also embraced the concept, with a sign going up at the Keizer Elks Lodge.

The City of Newberg recently ordered one for city hall, and took the idea a step further.

“The city of Newberg has offered one free sign to every business that wants one,” Rizzo said. “I think that’s terrific.”

Other cities in Oregon with at least one include Salem, Tualatin and John Day. The first Veterans Parking signs to go up out of state will be in Cass County, Minn. Rizzo was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the idea has spread.

And even if vets don’t feel the need to use it, Rizzo said the sign is designed as much to remind the public as it is to reward service.

“If you served honorably we ant to thank you every day – whether you use it or just drive by it, you are thanked,” Rizzo said. “I hope (the public) appreciates the fact that others did serve, especially now protecting us against further terrorist attacks,” Rizzo said.

The program is funded by donations. Signs cost about $40 and to have it installed is an additional $20. About $5 goes back to the organization.