CENTRAL POINT — An old war wound kept Robert Maxwell from his date at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial on Monday.

CENTRAL POINT — An old war wound kept Robert Maxwell from his date at the ground-breaking ceremony for the Oregon Fallen War Heroes Memorial on Monday.

Oregon's only living Medal of Honor recipient, who fell on a grenade to save his comrades-in-arms during World War II, was recuperating from a hip replacement.

But Maxwell, one of the featured speakers, was there in spirit.

"I wish I could join you and your fine group in celebrating the ground breaking but old World War II injuries required hip surgery last week," he wrote in a letter read by state Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford. "My doctor has me on a strict regimen for recovery."

Saying that he plans to be at the dedication of the memorial on Veterans Day, he added that other communities would do well to honor those who have fallen in war.

"As President Lincoln said, 'A nation that does not honor its heroes will not long endure,' " he said.

Honoring Oregonians killed while serving in the military is the mission of the memorial conceived by local resident Marty Terrell, whose three sons all served in the military.

She has teamed with Oregon Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, a Vietnam War veteran, in spearheading the effort to build the memorial.

Those who have fallen while in the military have made the ultimate sacrifice for "America's interests, America's people, America's allies and America's values," U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore. told the more than 100 people gathered for the ceremony.

Smith, who had earlier in the day spoke at the annual Memorial Day ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, noted he had visited many American military cemeteries abroad during his travels.

"It's a very somber experience," he said. "For instance, above the beaches of Normandy you will see 6,000 crosses intermingled with the star of David.

"In every case, there is a name of an American son and, on occasion, a daughter, all of whom had a mother and father, husband or a wife or children," he added. "They would not see them on this side of the earthly veil again. But they went because their country asked them."

He observed he supported the effort when President Bill Clinton sought American troops to halt the genocide in Kosovo. When he visited Kosovo, Smith said a survivor beseeched him to keep the American troops there until the conflict was resolved.

" 'Please keep the Americans here because they are the ones we trust,' " he told Smith. " 'They are the ones who will fight for what they believe in.'

"I take that as a high compliment for our country," Smith continued. "That kind of recognition I have observed on many an occasion when our country is called upon to go the extra mile abroad."

The point, he stressed, is that party afiliation and ideology do not matter when it comes to honoring American veterans.

It seemed appropriate to hold the ground-breaking ceremony on Memorial Day followed by a dedication ceremony on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day, Richardson said following the ceremony.

Starting with a $64,000 state grant received late last year, supporters have now raised about $125,000, Richardson said. With the estimated cost of the project at $220,000, they have to raise some $95,000 to pay it off.

"We have a lot of faith this is going to proceed — whenever we ask, people come forward," he said. "We have enough to get started. When we need the rest of the money, we know it will be there. People are opening their hearts and their wallets."

Construction on the memorial begins next week.

For more information on the project, as well as how to donate, check out www.oregonwarmemorial.com

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.