Soldiers Names Join Memorial

'Survivors' guilt' inspired Crutcher to push for memorial
by: Contributed photo Eric Anderson is on the left in this photo with friends taken in Vietnam in 1968. Anderson regularly sent rolls of film home to his family for them to develop. Much to his father's horror, the photos sometimes contained graphic images of those killed in the war.

A bronze plaque stands sentry in front of the American flag at Gresham's Heroes Memorial.

But it's worth its weight in gold to the families of six young men whose lives and deaths it honors.

Last month, Ryan Anderson, 35, had the honor of installing the plaque, which bears his father's name: Eric Joseph Anderson.

The elder Anderson and five other fellow Gresham High School graduates sacrificed their lives serving in Vietnam. Four of them died in action. Another drowned in Vietnam.

Ryan doesn't remember much about his dad, who was the only one of the six to return home and start a family after his military service. Ryan was just 6 when his father died of cancer, brought on by exposure to the chemical Agent Orange sprayed in Vietnam.

'It was nice to be able to do it, to be honest with you,' Ryan said of installing the plaque. He brought his 11-year-old son Blaine, Eric's grandson, along for the occasion.

A ceremony to dedicate the plaque is set for 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, as part of Gresham United Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No.180 Veterans Day service at the memorial, located at Powell Boulevard and Southeast Roberts Avenue.

Ryan can't make it because of work commitments. But his big brother, Shawn Anderson, 37, and mother, Kathy Anderson, will be there, as will Eric's four grandchildren.

Paying tribute

Ryan Crutcher also will attend the service at the memorial. It was his fond memories of playing sandlot baseball with the fallen soldiers that motivated him to spearhead the fundraising effort to add their names to the Heroes Memorial.

Dedicated in 2009, the privately funded memorial includes individual bricks with plaques naming individuals who have served in the military.

Each branch of the armed forces, in addition to police and firefighters, are represented.

But for some reason, the hometown Vietnam casualties - Anderson, Virgil Allen Calkins Jr., Donald Lewis Harden, William Lyle Sperb, and brothers George Nathan Wright and James Alfred Wright - were not.

'I was outraged,' Crutcher said.

Crutcher went to Orient School and Gresham High School with the six men. And he too served in military.

But while his classmates fought in Vietnam, luck stationed Crutcher in Germany and then brought him safely home.

'Those kids were just 17, 18 years old,' he said. 'I just got really lucky.'

So plagued by survivors' guilt and a need to right such a ghastly oversight, Crutcher began raising money to purchase six $40 plaques to honor each of his classmates on Gresham's new memorial.

It was Memorial Day 2010 when he organized a fundraiser at the Pleasant Home Saloon. The place was packed. Relatives of each of the six men attended. Dollars flowed in for the cause.

With funding for the plaques secured, Crutcher discovered the leaders who'd overseen the memorial's creation - Jack and Gail Hanna - had retired. So he turned the money over to the local post for the United Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But as with many things in life, creating the right memorial to the six men took time.

Meanwhile, the community grew impatient. And people even accused Crutcher of pocketing the cash for the memorial.

So it's not surprising that he's thrilled that the plaque is now in place at the memorial and he's especially happy that one of his classmate's sons drilled the holes and put the plaque in place.

'I think it adds special meaning to it,' Crutcher said. 'I'm just estatic about it.'

A family story

Kathy, Eric's widow, is thankful that Crutcher took it upon himself to see to it that her husband and the other five Gresham boys who died in Vietnam were recognized.

'I thought it was a very heartfelt thing to do,' she said.

In fact, it's the kind of thing her husband would have done.

Although Kathy and Eric went to Gresham High School together, Kathy didn't know him then. It wasn't until Dec. 26, 1968 - his first day home in Gresham after a year serving in Vietnam - that she remembers meeting him.

He was jumpy. A little weird. But Kathy could see he was kindhearted. Within months, he seemed to relax.

'He didn't talk about it or dwell on it,' she said. 'He just wanted to get on with his life and start a family.'

They married a year after meeting. Son Shawn was born in 1974 and Ryan followed in 1976. They farmed Christmas trees and berries on his parents' 20 acres off Chase Road, acres they planned to buy and continue farming.

It was downright pastoral, except for one thing: Eric always got sick when the farmers crop-dusted. Strange. He never got sick from crop dusting while growing up on the farm.

In 1979, he got sick with what they thought was blood poisoning. Instead, the infected veins in his arms were a symptom of pancreatic cancer he was later diagnosed with.

'And all the doctors told him it was due to chemical exposure in Vietnam,' Kathy said.

Eric recalled the military spraying areas of Vietnam for mosquitoes - areas that ended up totally deforested and devoid of wildlife; not even a bird survived.

Doctors estimated he had six months to live. So Eric spent less time at work for a mining equipment company and instead spent as much time as possible with his wife and sons. They went boating and traveled to Disneyland.

'He loved the boys immensely,' Kathy said.

Eric survived for 19 months. He died on Aug. 31, 1982. He'd just turned 35.

Now, Kathy sees her husband's quiet spirit in her sons.

And while she's glad the plaque is in place and her son played a role in installing it, the memorial doesn't bring any closure or finality to her loss.

'It's never final,' she said. 'It's been 30 years, 29 actually. There's always things you wish he was here for. To see his grandchildren and to see his kids' lives. He just missed so much.

'They all did.'