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Dignitaries honor fallen veterans, MAX train victims at ceremonies

Among many words honoring fallen heroes in military conflict Monday, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden took time to honor the two men — one from Ashland and the other an Army veteran — who “did not run from danger, but stood their ground and paid the ultimate price … to protect our freedoms.”

The two, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche of Ashland and retired Army Sgt. Rick Best, were knifed and killed Friday on Portland’s MAX train as they tried to shield two Muslim girls from a verbal racist attack.

“That Army veteran, Rick Best, had honored service overseas and when freedom was threatened, he came. Taliesin was a fine young man and we thank all their loved ones. They died to protect our freedom,” said the Democratic senator.

Speaking at the Memorial Day service at Don Jones Park in Central Point, state Rep. Sal Esquivel, Central Point Mayor Hank Williams and Lt. Col. Travis Lee also lauded service people as the enablers of all the freedoms Americans enjoy.

“These great men and women showed courage, sacrifice and determination and put their lives on hold to serve our country. We may never be able to really appreciate the sacrifice they made,” said Esquivel, a Navy combat veteran in Vietnam.

Wyden, in an interview, said Best “stepped in and gave his life because young women were being terrorized . . . Our soldiers have always stood for equal respect for everyone.”

While many at Ashland memorials over the weekend questioned how to stop random attacks, Wyden noted, “There’s a lot we can do, starting with our young people . . . and have zero tolerance for hate. It really starts in our hearts. It’s the freedom our soldiers fought for. I don’t buy the idea there’s no way to turn this around. Regardless of their philosophy, I see a lot of caring people stepping up.

“Oregon can be the place where people said, ‘Stop the hate.’”

It being Memorial Day, Wyden declined to discuss much about politics in the interview, but did say that, with battles shaping up over the federal budget, he and other Democrats will be working to prevent cuts in Medicaid and hope to swing at least three Republicans for a Senate majority against the House proposal.

“We’re trying to find support to derail it," he said.

“The Republicans will make cosmetic changes but keep the basic structure of the House bill, which will hit Oregon like a tsunami. Republicans will keep the $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid," Wyden said. "It will hit everyone from youngsters with special needs to seniors who need nursing homes. They will keep the hundreds of billions in tax breaks for the fortunate few.”

Wyden said he’s working hard over the next week with groups, organizations and voters — and are trying with a few Republicans, “if they’re willing to set aside this partisan-only strategy. Then there are plenty of ways Democrats and Republicans can work together.”

Wyden said there’s a perception that Medicaid recipients are “loafers,” but "two out of three are working."

Wyden also attended Memorial Day services at Eagle Point National Cemetery.

Reach Ashland freelance writer John Darling at jdarling@jeffnet.org.