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Recognizing a vet while there's still time

Long the face of the Newberg veteran community, Lester Beecroft lauded

“Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”

Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s sentiment, uttered in his farewell address to Congress in 1951 after being fired by President Harry Truman as commander of American forces in the Korean War, didn’t sit well with a group of veterans in Newberg who were determined that one of their own would be properly recognized while he was still alive.

That man was Lester Beecroft and they did so May 15 at his home in Newberg.GARY ALLEN - Les Beecroft accepts a ceremonial American flag in recognition of his service to the veteran community in Newberg.

Anyone connected to Newberg’s two veteran organizations, the VFW and American Legion, is familiar with Beecroft as he held just about every office over the past 56 years.

The 94-year-old’s service was just an extension of his military career, which spanned World War II and the Korean War, as a pharmacist mate first-class in the Navy. He transitioned from the life of a sailor working in the operating room to that of a meat cutter at Safeway and with his bride Annabel, settled in Newberg.

Soon after he joined the VFW and began working his way up through the ranks to serve in positions ranging from quartermaster to a member of the honor guard, from starting the post’s hospital equipment program and helping create a flag service program that now deploys more than 300 flags on holidays, to becoming the post commander on more than one occasion. He is a Legacy Life member of the VFW as well.

In presenting Beecroft a framed certificate recognizing his contributions, incoming VFW Commander Wayne Miller’s message was simple: “Les is not dedicated, Les is committed. He is one of the guys who has been committed to the VFW, to the American Legion, the city of Newberg … whatever you think about, think of Les. He’s done it all, he’s helped with the flag service, set up the hospital equipment (program) and that’s what this certificate of appreciation is all about. Les, I know we’d never be able to do it without you and really like to thank you for that …”

For nearly three generations Beecroft has been a visible face of the ranks of veterans in Newberg, responsible for everything from promoting the sale of Buddy Poppies to organizing the annual Memorial Day ceremony.

But Beecroft’s health is failing and he is under hospice care now. When queried about his father’s ailments, son Stan said simply his body is “just wearing out.”

So it was with some sense of urgency that George Edmonston Jr., a fellow Navy vet and unofficial town historian, joined Miller and American Legion Commander Faith Gerstel in organizing the recognition. Present were about a dozen VFW and American Legion members, sharply dressed in their posts’ garb, as well as many members of the extended Beecroft family; Lester and Annabel have six children, 13 grandchildren and more than 30 great-grandchildren.

“What I did was take the lead in suggesting we do something to honor Mr. Beecroft as our grateful thanks for his many, many years of service and sacrifice to benefit the VFW and American Legion posts, area veterans and the city of Newberg,” Edmonston said. “He has done so much to honor us, I felt it was time we honored him.”

In addition to the certificate, which came from the American Legion, Miller carefully handed the old vet an ornate, glass-doored wooden box that contained an American flag. It is a gift usually reserved for family members upon the death of a veteran and graces the mantles of households across the land.

“Detail, present arms!” Miller barked as the veterans in the crowd snapped a salute. “Order arms!”

Beecroft, a bit bewildered by the whole affair, nonetheless posed for photos with the veterans organizations, the cameras of a half-dozen family members and the press snapping away wildly to record the moment.

“Organizations thrive when inspiring leadership and inspiring participation are involved,” Edmonston said. “This is the best summary I know to describe what Les Beecroft means (and has meant) to our community. So many of the activities we (VFW, Legion) continue to carry on, for the sake of patriotism, serving as role models for young people, and for the overall betterment of Newberg, can be traced back to Mr. Beecroft’s groundbreaking work to start things up and keep things going.