Young leader ... steps forward

A high school senior finds a way to honor military veterans and serve his community with patriotic labor

May 25, 2005

Hood River Valley High School senior Hans Decker will be sporting a shiny new Eagle Scout badge at Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony. The 18-year-old has earned the highest honor in the Boy Scouts by landscaping the Walk of Honor to the Veteran’s Obelisk at Idlewild Cemetery. On Friday, he will fill his new leadership role by overseeing Odell Boy Scout Troop 378’s posting of almost 600 flags at the gravesites of veterans. His duties will also include the raising of 16 casket flags donated by the families of deceased veterans along the roadway leading through the graveyard.

“Ever since I’ve been 10 years old I’ve been fascinated by the history of people who have participated in the military. This project was a way that I could give back to the community and thank the veterans who have sacrificed so much,” said Decker.

The 2005 observance will have a special meaning to the young adult apart from his direct contribution. This fall, he is off to the University of Dallas in Texas to study political philosophy.

Being able to leave his childhood behind with a top scout ranking is no small feat for Decker, who joined only two years ago. In the last 24 months, the goal-oriented teenager has scrambled to earn 23 merit awards to qualify for his Eagle badge.

“I am so glad that I joined and that I could do this project,” said Decker, who is unabashedly patriotic.

He will not be the only student involved in the May 30 activities organized by Linda Adams, county veteran affairs officer, in partnership with American Legion Post 22 and Auxiliary. Both the middle and high school bands will perform patriotic selections in the program which begins at 9:45 a.m. with a parade of past and present military personnel, along with representatives from area service organizations and community members. The parade will begin in the parking lot on the south side of Down Manor and enter the cemetery through the north gate. (Brookside Drive will be temporarily blocked to traffic.)

At 10 a.m., Legion Commander Denny Leonard will greet the audience and introduce special guests and families of deceased veterans named on the five new plaques along the Scattered Ashes Memorial at the end of the Walk of Honor. He will also give a special welcome to a local group of Army National Guard soldiers who have recently returned to the Hood River Armory from a tour of duty in Iraq. In fact, Leonard plans to use equipment provided by Specialist Kenneth Miller for the field memorial exhibition.

“I just thought it would be appropriate to use gear that had been used on the battlefield for this tribute,” said Leonard.

Miller will be present to represent his fellow soldiers, many of whom will be unable to attend because of other duties. He plans to help erect the memorial that is reminiscent of markers that were put up by mass graves on the battlefields of Europe between 1939-45. The weapon of the fallen soldier and his boots stood above the burial site, with his helmet and dog tags, for identification, hung on the stock of the weapon.

Miller is then being given a moment on Monday to thank the community for all of the cards, letters and care packages that were sent to him and his fellow soldiers.

He provided a glimpse of his speech in the following statement, “For over 360 years our nation has had a volunteer force of citizen soldiers. Throughout history these soldiers have performed their duties magnificently, while putting their family lives and jobs on hold. We are proud to serve this great nation, the state of Oregon and our local communities. It is an honor that I cherish and I hope you cherish as well.”

Also speaking on behalf of the Guard is Master Sgt. Leroy Himes, a longtime reservist who is employed at Paddocks Enterprises, Inc.

The Memorial Day invocation will be given by Pastor Jack Williams from the Mt. View Baptist Church, prior to the placement of floral tributes by Parkdale Post No. 6987 and Hood River Post 1479 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, and other area service organizations.

Leonard will then introduce keynote speaker Ed Van Dyke from the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.

Following the playing of the National Anthem by the high school band at the conclusion of Van Dyke’s speech, Williams will give a benediction and Decker will then present the Walk of Honor recognition and a rifle salute will be fired by an Honor Guard. Trumpeter Alex Bryan plays the solo “Taps” at the same time the poppy wreath is being placed at the base of the obelisk.

A flyover by the Oregon Air National Guard is expected about about 10:45 a.m. Special seating at the Memorial Day remembrance will be available for the elderly and disabled.

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