Please note, the photo used in the story and the boy quoted are both members of Pack 740, we were so proud of them and all the Scouts who participated in this very important service project!
Salute to fallen heroes
Honoring hometown veterans includes rolling hills covered in red, white and blue
JIM CLARK / GRESHAM OUTLOOK
Jacob Peak, 7, plants a flag Thursday evening at Willamette National Cemetery.
Pausing to honor those who gave their lives in service to their country is a day of remembrance dating back to the Civil War. Historical evidence suggests that organized women’s groups in the South were decorating graves before the war ended and parades were held to pay tribute to war heroes, both living and deceased.
Though several towns and cities claim to be the birthplace of what was once called Decoration Day, Gen. John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, is credited with making the initial proclamation for Memorial Day in 1868. The first official observance was held May 30, 1868, when flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Following World War I, most places in small-town America took to honoring veterans who had died fighting in any war. Main streets were lined with American flags as residents paid tribute to their neighbors and friends who had made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
Gresham was no different. Numerous families said goodbye to sons, fathers, husbands and brothers who went off to war to protect those at home. Some returned and led lives enriching their communities. Others are remembered as heroes today.
Pvt. Robert L. Jennings was the first Gresham resident to perish in World War II. The 21-year-old only child of Jimmie and Jennie Jennings was a member of the United States Air Force, attached to a bombing squadron in the Philippines.
Jennings was killed in action at Clark Air Base in Manila during the initial bombardment of the Philippine Islands on Dec. 8, 1941. While the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor occurred the morning of Dec. 7, it was already Dec. 8 in the Philippines because of the international date line. Nine hours after bombing Pearl Harbor, unopposed Japanese planes attacked the base in the Philippines, killing Jennings and many others.
Jennings was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The medal is given to members of the United States armed forces who are wounded during combat or to the next of kin for those who died in action or as the result of wounds they received.
The private’s medal was passed down to his second cousin, Lois Metzger, who along with her husband Tom donated Jennings’ Purple Heart to the Gresham History Museum. In March 2011, the medal was stolen from a display case. It was replaced two months later by the Oregon Military Museum in Clackamas as a permanent tribute to Gresham’s first World War II casualty.
Jennings was given full military honors during a post-war burial at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Gresham. Annually, during the cemetery’s Memorial Day observance, a wreath is placed on Jennings' grave in honor of his sacrifice.
Remembering fallen heroes is a long-standing tradition for the Cascade Pacific Council of the Boy Scouts of America. For the past 44 years, Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts from the east county Thunderbird District of BSA have joined other troops and packs to place small flags on the graves of veterans at Willamette National Cemetery in Portland. A flag ceremony, invocation and 21-gun salute preceded the event, which takes place on the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend.
Despite torrential rains, more than 1,000 people, scouts and their families turned out Thursday night to participate in the service project, which reinforces one of the principles of scouting.
“One of the main themes of the Boy Scouts of America is citizenship,” said Erick Simmons, district director for the Thunderbird District. “So when we have a national cemetery like Willamette National, it makes sense to partner with them for this event. It’s a good lesson in citizenship for the scouts to honor and recognize our veterans on Memorial Day. And it’s hard to not get a catch in your breath when they play 'Taps’ and you see all those hills covered in red, white and blue. It’s very impressive.”
With a handful of small flags, Glenfair Elementary School fourth-grader William Bryce stood before the headstone of a World War II veteran and carefully sounded out the soldier’s name. He pushed the flag into the soggy ground and stood smartly to salute. It was a ritual he repeated numerous times, working his way across a wide section in the cemetery, and the third year he had participated in the project.
William knew of no family members buried at Willamette National, but he treated each headstone as if it were for a relative.
“A veteran is somebody who served our country and protects our freedom,” he said. “They deserve more than a flag and salute and thank you. They protected us and served us.”
Memorial Day events
Veterans will be honored at Willamette National Cemetery during an annual flag ceremony from 10-11 a.m. Monday, May 28. Visitors are asked to check in at the cemetery office for shuttle transportation to the ceremony, which will include invocations, a cannon salute and fly-over by the 142nd Airborne Division of the Air National Guard. The cemetery is at 11800 S.E. Mt. Scott Blvd. in Portland.
Other Memorial Day ceremonies:
• Tribute to Fallen Soldiers, sponsored by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, 9 a.m. Monday, Forest Lawn Cemetery, 400 S.W. Walters Drive, Gresham.
• Heroes Memorial, 11 a.m. Monday, corner of West Powell Boulevard and Southeast Roberts Road. Scheduled speakers include local dignitaries and the VFW Commander.
• Flag raising and retirement ceremony, beginning at 11 a.m. Monday, Bridal Veil Historical Cemetery, Bridal Veil Exit 28 off Interstate 84 eastbound. Sponsored by the Columbia River Gorge and Troutdale Kiwanis clubs, the event will open with a flag ceremony conducted by Boy Scout Troop 272 and Cub Scout Pack 272, both from Corbett. The public is invited to bring old flags – those that cannot be displayed – for proper retirement and disposal.
Assistance for veterans
Volunteers with the Salvation Army are bringing the red kettles out of storage Saturday, May 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. for a one-day fundraiser to benefit the organization’s Homefront War Relief Program and the East County Veterans Stand Down.
Kettles will be available at Gresham Ford, 1940 E. Powell Blvd.; Wood Village Walmart, 23500 N.E. Sandy Blvd.; the Gresham Farmers Market, on Northwest Miller Avenue and Third Street; the West Columbia Gorge Chamber of Commerce, 226 W. Historic Columbia River Highway, Troutdale; and along Main Avenue in Historic Downtown Gresham.
The Salvation Army’s Homefront War Relief Program provides emergency financial assistance to dependents of deployed military personnel or returning veterans who have suffered a hardship as result of deployment.
The East County Veterans Stand Down offers referrals, options and resources to struggling, homeless veterans. The annual event, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 20, in Troutdale, helps link veterans to benefit counselors, health screenings and local resources for assistance.