By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes
SALEM – The beauty of the day contrasted vividly with the somberness.
Last Friday, June 6, the new Oregon World War II Memorial at Willson Park was dedicated, in the foreground of the state capitol building.
It was estimated more than 250 World War II veterans were among the 3,000 or so people who crammed into the park.
The weather was Chamber of Commerce-level gorgeous, as was the location. But the event took place on the 70th anniversary of D-Day, one of the most somber days in military history.
The ceremony was concluded with veterans getting the first look at the walls engraved with the names of the 3,771 Oregonians who died during World War II service. The memorial itself is a 33-foot tall granite pillar, with the height reflecting Oregon being the 33rd state.
The Oregon World War II Memorial Foundation helped raise the $1.2 million for the project. Lou Jaffe, president of the foundation, was among those who spoke.
“Our goal from day one has been for this memorial to forever be a reminder of the Oregonians who served both at home and abroad during the war,” Jaffe said. “This memorial will not only honor that war’s veterans, but educate young people so they’ll always honor and remember those who fought and died in the war during what was probably our nation’s finest hour when we came together in unity.”
Chaplain Col. Ron McKay from the Oregon National Guard gave the invocation, while the North Salem High School JROTC members posted the colors. The Oregon National Guard’s 234th Army Band Brass Quintet played the national anthem while remarks were given by Gov. John Kitzhaber, WWII bomber pilot Bill Markham and Dirk Kruysman, a WWII survivor.
“I’m just tickled pink that I lived long enough to see it,” Markham said of the memorial.
Major General Dan Hokanson, Oregon’s adjutant general, gave the keynote address.
“It’s a distinct honor for me to be here, among our nation’s heroes I read so much about growing up,” Hokanson said. “On such an important day in our nation’s history, the 70th anniversary of D-Day, what many consider the greatest military event ever conducted, the Allied invasion on Normandy.”
Jaffe, WWII veteran Larry Epping and Secretary of State Kate Brown performed ribbon cutting duties for the memorial.
Looking at the WWII veterans filling the first rows of seats, Kitzhaber recalled his own dad serving in the war.
“Before he died, I would call him up every year…” an emotional Kitzhaber said, pausing to collect his thoughts, “…on June 6 and thank him for saving the world. Seventy years later and half a world away we are gathered on this delightful spring afternoon to remember those who served, sacrificed and survived and came home to their families and their communities to rebuild this nation and to rebuild our world.
“When we talk about heroes, I think we tend to think of people with superhuman powers,” the governor added. “I don’t think that’s what heroes are. I think Gov. Tom McCall got it right when he said heroes are not giants framed against a red sky. They are ordinary people who say this is our community and it’s our responsibility to make it better.”
Kruysman was a 10-year-old living in German-occupied Holland on D-Day.
“It is a day I will always remember,” he said. “It was the day that was the beginning of the end of a long, brutal war in Europe.”
Kitzhaber touched on the importance of all veterans.
“Veterans are not a burden we have to bear,” he said. “They are an enormous asset that we have the opportunity to be in touch with. Veterans are exactly what Oregon needs – they are mission-driven, hard-working, service-minded men and women who are ready and able to help their community.”