Overdue recognition: Eagle Scout project restores veterans' graves
West Linn teen honors veterans dating back to the Mexican war of the 1840s
U.S. Navy veteran Edward Everett Hale spent three years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp during World War II.
He managed to survive the experience and lived to be 77 years old before passing away in 1996. He was buried at the historic Pleasant View Cemetery outside Wilsonville, one of the oldest pioneer cemeteries in the area.
But in a relatively short time, Hales grave literally became lost to the elements and reclaimed by the soil.
When Wilsonville resident and former Clackamas County Board of Commissioners Chairwoman Charlotte Lehan became the archivist and webmaster for the cemetery eight years ago, she found Hale was just one of 12 military veterans interred there whose final resting places had suffered the same fate.
Like a lot of pioneer cemeteries, we have a lot of missing headstones, probably 200 to 300 missing headstones, said Lehan, who now is president of the Pleasant View Cemetery Association. But the ones that are veterans, it means that when theirs are missing theres no way to recognize them on Memorial Day or Veterans Day.
On March 17, however, those veterans finally got their day of recognition, thanks to West Linn resident Reed Burress, 18, who will graduate from Wilsonville High School this June. And because of those 12 veterans hell be an Eagle Scout.
He has risen all the way through the Scouting ranks over the past 12 years. Along the way he chose to stay with his friends in local schools and Wilsonville-based Troop 194 despite a family move to West Linn.
For his Eagle Scout service project, Burress has used the last several months to dig into cemetery archives and research the approximate location of the 12 veterans graves.
He then enlisted the help of family, friends and fellow Scouts not to mention a surveyor to create stainless steel plaques bearing the veterans names, birth and death dates and service information. Those plaques then were affixed to stout concrete bases and placed at their gravesites.
Last weekend, Burress headed up a ceremony to dedicate the project. On hand were representatives from American Legion Post 56 in Sherwood, State Rep. John Davis of Wilsonville, city of Sherwood officials and members of Wilsonville Scout Troop 194, which is affiliated with St. Cyrils Catholic Church.
Burress spoke to the audience about the rewards and ideals of Scouting. But afterward, he insisted that even though the restoration of the gravesites was incredibly worthwhile, he should not be the one receiving credit.
It was, he said. But the reason I decided on this project, is I really shouldnt get recognized for what I did, these guys should. They served our country and they should be recognized for that.
The notion of honoring American military veterans came from his grandfather, he added, who served as a tank commander in the Army during World War II. More recently, fellow Scout Cameron Gilberts earlier Eagle project at Pleasant View, where he repaired damaged headstones, was the catalyst for Burress own work.
I just decided that I wanted to honor the 12 veterans who were here because they dont get honored on Memorial Day or Veterans Day, he said. On the cemetery map, starting in the 1800s, we had records of everyone who was buried here. Most of them actually still dont have markers, and so when we came across the map we found out that most of them were veterans and 12 of the veterans didnt have markers.
A long time coming
Lehan said this is a project that has been on her mind in one form or another for quite some time.
For a couple years I tried to talk different Scouts into doing just a few, she said. So when Reed came up with a plan to do the metal engraved, and then decided he was going to do all 12, thats all 12 of my veterans. So, that was huge.
The federal government still requires proof of service, including original discharge and muster paperwork, before it will issue an official federal marker for deceased veterans, she added. That was simply out of the question, given that three of the newly marked veterans served in the Civil War, four others served in wars against American Indian tribes and one in the even earlier Mexican-American War.
But shes not quibbling over that kind of detail.
I feel a lot better about it now going into Memorial Day weekend that theyll be appropriately marked, Lehan said.
Ed Burress is Reeds father. An engineer by profession, he has watched his son progress from a 5-year-old Cub Scout all the way to the top of the organizations ranks. He said Reed is the only one out of 15 fellow Den 6 Cub Scouts to remain with Scouting.
It was just after crossover, when the boys go from Cub Scouts into Boy Scouts, and he saw the payoff coming, Ed Burress said. That was it. He saw the payoff coming. For him it was, he still had fun, but he took it a little more seriously.
Its important that boys be involved in something that engages them with other boys, he added.
And for (Reed), Scouting really fit, he said. Every once in a while you think about how the countrys going south, and then you see these guys coming out here. I sat in on a few Eagle Board of Reviews, and I tell you, it just changes your heart.
He has yet to decide on a university or a course for the future. But one thing is certain: When Reed Burress does decide, hes going to enter into that decision with the intention of permanence. Thats how he approached his project.
They should sink down a little bit over time with erosion, he said, pointing at the concrete slab and machined plaque bearing Hales name and 1919 birth date. But they will be here for a long time to come.