CENTRAL POINT — Row after row of empty, rain-spattered chairs belied the more than 150 people who braved Monday morning's cold for Veterans Day services at the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial along Hamrick Road.
The empty chairs could have been filled four times over with veterans, friends, family and community members. But those who'd come to honor veterans of all U.S. wars instead stood nearest the section of memorial that paid tribute to the military branch for which they or their loved ones served.
State Rep. Dennis Richardson, who raised money for and helped plan the memorial, guided the ceremony marked by bagpipe players, Boy Scout flag bearers and guest speakers.
A veteran helicopter pilot who served in Chu Lai during the Vietnam War, Richardson listed off each era of wartime, from the Korean War to Iraq, asking veterans to stand or wave and be acknowledged.
"Today we honor and serve these men and women," Richardson told the audience.
"We need to remember that America still is the light on the hill and the hope for all the rest of the world."
Richardson noted it had been four years since the dedication of the memorial, built to honor Oregonians lost in service to their country since the Civil War.
After the ceremony, dozens of veterans remained, telling stories and visiting with old friends.
Medford resident Delbert Littrell, a veteran of five island campaigns during World War II, donned an "Iwo Jima Survivor" hat and marveled at the scope of the large memorial.
"It's a really beautiful place and it's wonderful they would build this for veterans," he said, looking up at the American flag.
Wearing hearing aids, the 88-year-old in the red Marine Corps windbreaker recalled his time as a loader of heavy artillery.
"Some of the shells were that big around," he said, demonstrating a circle the size of a large watermelon.
"You didn't stand in front of it, you stood beside it, because a 155 had a recoil of about six feet."
Of his failed hearing, Littrell recalled a battle on Saipan.
"An 80-incher hit 6 or 8 feet in front of our gun," Littrell recalled. "Nobody could hear anything for a couple of days, so we just went by hand signals."
Central Point resident Leroy Minger, who served in the Army from 1963 to 1966, surveyed memorial sections for each military branch, looking for fellow Oregonians who served during Vietnam.
He recalled a Crater High School classmate who died after serving just one year. "I remember John Boyce, he was a Crater boy. ... he was just 19 when he got killed over there," Minger said, nodding toward the Marines section of the memorial.
"He was a little short fella but everyone said he got a lot taller when he joined the Marines."
Central Point retirees Chuck Stamps, a Coast Guard veteran, and Ken Jones, a Navy veteran, inspected the memorial, scanning for names of those fallen but also those on bricks purchased by supporters of the memorial in honor of living veterans.
"I've got my son-in-law over here. He was combat wounded in Afghanistan, earned two Purple Hearts," Stamps said.
A transplant from California, Stamps said the memorial was important for its role in remembering fallen Oregonians and giving veterans from all parts of the country a place to reflect.
"We love this. We think it's a great place for everyone to come. They did a wonderful job," Stamps said.
While impressed with the local ceremony, Littrell expressed concern for his country and for those still serving as he once did.
"In 1940, 10 percent of the country's population was in the military. Today it's fewer than 1 percent. Our country is really changing," he said.
"A lot of younger people don't realize what they've got and they don't realize why people try to come here because we have so much freedom that other countries don't.
"I really don't think a lot of people realize how much freedom we've got in America and that somebody has had to die to make it that way."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance reporter living in Medford. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.