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The Story of a Memorial

By Dennis Tribble

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Estacada is a small western Oregon town approximately 40 miles southeast of Portland. This rural community has a veteran's memorial that would befit any town or city in this nation. At the time the memorial was built, the founder had no direct knowledge of the VVAW motto: "Honor the Warrior – Not the War." However, through his vision, it has become a beautiful memorial for all veterans from Estacada and surrounding areas minus any war-related items. According to the founder, it would be "a simple yet elegant tribute to those who served."

Dennis Dahrens is a US Navy veteran who served from 1961 – 1966. He did not see action in Vietnam. Like so many others, his work was done in support of the US effort in the early years of the Vietnam conflict.

In our conversations, Dennis shared that his first assignment was to radar picket duty with the Airborne Early Warning Barrier Squadron Pacific, based on Midway Island. He maintained EC121K Reconnaissance plane engines and kept logbooks. Later, he was transferred to Hawaii and again assigned to Airborne Early Warning Barrier Squadron Pacific and then Utility Squadron No. 1. In addition to mechanic duties, he trained pilots from Australia and South Vietnam to fly the Orion. The PV3 was used heavily in Vietnam to cut off the Viet Cong supply routes to the south.

After leaving the service in 1966, Dennis returned home to work and raise a family. As we spoke, Dennis wanted to specifically relate two personal events that prompted him to consider a significant way to renew his involvement with the service and servicemembers.

The first incident occurred during his active service while on leave in 1962. Wearing his dress white uniform and escorting his girlfriend, he was confronted by three local citizens. One grabbed his hat and refused to return it. This action prompted words and a fight involving all four men soon followed. Though his serious injuries would heal, the memory of the level of disrespect shown to both Dennis and his friend, as well as to his uniform, would last for some time.

The more recent of the events occurred in 2003. While attending a rally held in Estacada in support of local troops serving in the military, Dennis noted numerous cardboard signs listing these names. One sign identified his son, a US Marine. Dennis was impressed with the citizens' desire to recognize service members. He realized then that the most significant way he and others could show lasting respect and honor to all military personnel was by permanently displaying the names of veterans in a memorial.

The complexities of building such a structure were daunting considering he had yet to locate a site. Dahrens began a search for a location in the community. He found a vacant lot wedged between adjacent developed properties just out of the main business area of Estacada. After finding that the property belonged to the City of Estacada, and following some negotiations, Dennis was granted legal rights to the lot.

Commensurate with the property search, Dahrens put out a call for others to assist in the project. A retired Master Sergeant from the Air Force, John Nieder, came forward, knowledgeable in engineering skills needed to develop a full set of the memorial working plans. It was agreed that the memorial would be "simple yet elegant" dedicated to peace and dignity for local veterans. The completed plans were presented to the State of Oregon for review. Dennis and his newly formed workgroup, Estacada Area Support Our Troops Foundation (EASOTF) founded in 2005, were granted seed money by the State to start the project.

As word spread about the memorial, other interested citizens became involved. Several made substantial monetary investments. One local service club donated a large sum of money. The general public began to donate. Dennis held his own rally to gather additional funds and encourage interest. Soon many others began to donate materials, time, and labor to move the project forward.

There is no doubt that the Estacada Veteran's Memorial is among the most beautiful in the State. Nieder designed an elevated rear platform on which rest seven flag poles: a large, centered United States Flag pole and six shorter poles – one for each branch of the military and the Merchant Marine Service. These were the first elements to be installed by EASOTF at the memorial. Several flags have been donated by local citizens.

In front of the flags are curved, amphitheater-like Walls of Honor on which bricks bearing the names of the veterans and their service branches are engraved. The curvature of the walls places a viewer inside the display. The EASOTF installs new bricks twice a year during the Memorial Day and Veterans Day services. The Memorial continues to grow as the names have expanded beyond local veterans to those of friends and family who have served. In a fitting tribute on Veteran's Day this year, a brick bearing the VVAW name and logo will be placed near the base of the statue of the Estacada Veteran's Memorial.

The walk to the Walls of Honor is a figure eight-designed path which crisscrosses at the center to meet a beautiful American Eagle centerpiece. Inside the top round of the figure eight, at the entry arch, is an elevated flower bed with gorgeous, varied plantings provided and maintained by the Estacada's Garden Club. Luxurious Green Arrow cedar trees, donated by the Vietnam Veterans of America, border the Memorial on both sides. An MIA table is set and decorated in the lower circle of the figure eight walk during all ceremonies.

The Estacada Veteran's Memorial is special, as are all those involved whose dedication ensured the creation of this site. Remembrance programs are held each year on Memorial Day and Veteran's Day. As the names of the veterans are read aloud, and the services continue each year, this simple yet elegant place truly "Honors the Warrior."

Dennis Tribble is a US Navy vet who was assigned to the destroyer USS Richard B Anderson off the coast of Vietnam in 1967.

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