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A red, white and blue affair

"‰Johnny Lee Fulton was two weeks away from returning stateside when he was killed in battle.

The 19-year-old Army sergeant, nicknamed "Tex" by his unit for his penchant for wearing cowboy boots, was flying back from a reconnaissance mission when his Huey helicopter was shot down in Vietnam, taking him and his entire crew down with it.

Although he died on May 5, 1970, his mother, Marie Fulton, has never stopped thinking about him, and she still has his complete U.S. Army uniform stored away in a cedar chest.

"Every year you think it's going to get easier," said Fulton. "It doesn't."

The 81-year-old mother of four was one of several hundred attendees at the third annual Mill Creek Memorial Veterans Festival, an all-day event held Memorial Day Weekend in Prospect to honor the contributions and sacrifices of America's veterans.

The event, put on by the Mill Creek Memorial community organization, featured bed races, five- and 10-mile runs, a flag-retirement ceremony, food and craft booths, a moment of silence for a local veteran who died recently, and an old-fashioned parade replete with fire engines, a local canine unit from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department Search and Rescue Team, hot rods and more.

"Six of us got together and said, 'We should be doing more for our vets,' " said Fred Wickman, who owns the Prospect Historic Hotel with his wife, Karen. "It takes a lot of effort and energy and personal commitment to be a veteran or a soldier ... . They do a lot for us."

"It's all to honor veterans," added Karen Wickman. "Everyone who participates is volunteering their time to honor veterans and their sacrifice."

Except for a small amount of money put away for next year's festival, all proceeds from the event went to the Mill Creek Memorial veterans' fund, which helps local veterans with emergency medical expenses. The organization hopes to eventually expand the fund to cover heating costs and other expenses, Fred Wickman said.

Prospect has no shortage of veterans. Fred Wickman said the local Veteran Affairs office has 65 veterans registered in Prospect, roughly 10 percent of the town's population.

"You'd be surprised how many veterans we have here," said Fulton, who's lived in Prospect for five years. "The cafe in the morning, all the old men will get together, and boy do they have stories to tell."

The festival organizers created a donation fund for local veteran John Linderman, who recently died from health issues related to his service in Vietnam. The proceeds will go toward Linderman's burial expenses.

"He was a favorite among everybody," said Fulton, who said the women in the trailer park where he lived more or less took care of him. "(The donations) are very good because he didn't have much money."

Recently, Fulton has been considering donating her son's uniform to a museum, perhaps the Camp White Military Museum at Southern Oregon Rehabilitation Center and Clinics, where she worked as a nurse for six years.

"Sometimes I see some of these veterans who come home, and I'm almost thankful my son died the way he did, rather than coming home with some of the problems they have," Fulton said. "I just wish we could do more."

Reach reporting intern Nils Holst at 541-776-4368 or email holstn@sou.edu.

Brenda Monroe competes in the first heat of the bed races at the Mill Creek Memorial Veterans Festival Saturday in Prospect. - Julia Moore