Nine hundred sixty-eight in World War I.
Three thousand, seven hundred fifty-seven in World War II.
Two hundred and sixty-nine in the Korean War.
Seven hundred and nine in Vietnam.
Six in Desert Storm.
Sixty-nine in Iraq.
Seventy-four in Afghanistan.
During Monday’s Memorial Day Celebration at the Springfield Veterans Plaza, veteran Troy Olsen read aloud the death toll of Oregonians who have lost their lives amid military conflict since WWI began.
Five thousand eight hundred fifty-two documented fallen Oregonian soldiers — a profound number to grapple with, mourn, and memorialize.
In the quiet spaces between each number read aloud, hearts grew heavier. Veterans hung their heads, recalling those who died that they served beside, and families and friends recalled their loved ones who never made it home.
“We honor those who gave everything for the freedoms we have in this great country, for those who gave their lives in the heat of battle, and for those who lost their lives on its fringes,” said Dave Loveall, Lane County Commissioner, who served six years in the Navy, where he was a military photojournalist, aerial photographer, and photographer for the Blue Angels. “This one supreme act sets them all apart, in a hallowed category of those of us who lived, and especially in the hearts of those who we served alongside.”
The 74th annual event, hosted by the American Legion Post #40 in conjunction with the City of Springfield, also included the posting and retiring of the flag by Mahlon Sweet Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol, the presentation of the wreaths by Springfield Elks Emblem Club and the posting of the flags by the Elks, in addition to a Battlefield Cross display explained by Olsen, which was presented by the Willamette Leadership Academy.
The Battlefield Cross, Olsen explained, is a symbolic representation of a memorial for a soldier who’s been killed in the battle.
“Its imagery is simple, yet powerful,” Olsen said.
The rifle indicates that the soldier was killed in action.
The boots symbolize their final march.
The dog tags symbolize their names will never be forgotten.
The helmet indicates the sacrifice that has been given.
“Military service … comes with a great risk that a lot of people simply never face. In an age of individualism, it reminds us to serve each other. In a time when our country faces disunity, it reminds us that we are truly part of one American family,” said Sean VanGordon, Springfield mayor. “As citizens on Memorial Day, our most important responsibility is to give our time — our time to remember, our time to volunteer, our time to reflect on the courage it takes to build a country.”
George Crolly, Springfield Police Operations Support Division Lieutenant and Air Force veteran, recalled his recent visit to Arlington National Cemetery, calling it “a stark reminder” of the enormous loss of life suffered by those who donned the uniform.
“Behind every uniform, there’s a person who made a conscious decision to serve and protect their country and their community, even in the face of danger,” Crolly said. “As a police lieutenant, I’m reminded daily of the courage and selflessness of those in uniform who have committed to protecting and serving others. But I’ve also had the misfortune of experiencing the loss of a peer in the line of duty.”
Somber and honorable, Crolly wiped away a tear as the trumpet sounded from the nearby trees to commemorate the fallen.
“Today, we pay tribute to our fallen heroes, their legacy should be a call to action,” Crolly said. “Their memory should serve as a reminder that our work is not done. We must continue to strive for a better tomorrow. We must embrace the responsibility to build bridges, break down barriers, and to work hand-in-hand in the communities we serve. We must rededicate ourselves to the ideals for which our fallen heroes fought and died. Let’s strive for unity and compassion for a world free from conflict and strife. Let’s carry that legacy forward.”
See below: Memorial Day scenes at the Veterans Plaza in Springfield on May 29. All photos by Bob Williams / The Chronicle.