May 18, 2007 Volume 108 Number 10

Afghan-Iraqi Freedom War Memorial has union ties

SALEM — A ceremony honoring Oregonians who have died while serving in U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, May 28 — Memorial Day — at the Afghan-Iraqi Freedom War Memorial located on the grounds of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs at 700 Summer Street NE, Salem.

The war memorial has deep union ties.

Bill McMichaels, a 33-year member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 290, designed the memorial, helped spearhead the drive to raise funds, and was the project manager responsible for finding skilled workers and contractors to donate their time and materials.

McMichaels contacted his union friends from the building trades — Iron Workers, Cement Masons, Carpenters, Electricians, apprenticeship training centers and others.

“No one turned me down. It was a real brotherhood,” he said.

McMichaels estimated it would have cost $800,000 to build the memorial without the 750 volunteers and all the donations.

A Salem resident, McMichaels, 60, is a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War who lost many friends in that war.

He also is friends with Clay and MJ Kesterson of Independence, Oregon. The couple lost their son, Army Warrant Officer Erik Kesterson, in a Blackhawk helicopter crash in Iraq in 2003.

Together the trio formed a non-profit foundation to create a memorial honoring all Oregon military members who have been killed in Afghanistan and Iraq. It is the first memorial to be built in the United States for the Afghan-Iraq conflicts and the first memorial ever to be built before a conflict was over, McMichaels said.

“It took 60 years to get a memorial for soldiers in World War II,” McMichaels said. “We weren’t going to wait that long.”

The design and site location for the memorial were approved by the Oregon Legislature and signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski on Sept. 2, 2005.

“The hardest part of this whole project was getting through the bureaucratic red tape,” McMichaels said. He acknowledged the efforts of Rep. Donna Nelson for helping get the bill passed.

Construction on the memorial began in June 2005.

The erection of the statue and fountain began on Sept. 11, 2006, with Kulongoski setting a goal for completion on Veterans Day — Nov. 11, 2006.

“Everybody said it couldn’t be done in two months. They said it would take at least five,” McMichaels told the Northwest Labor Press. McMichaels, who has committed to handling all the maintenance work at the memorial for the next five years, was there installing a new granite bench and pulling stakes on concrete pathways that had been poured earlier that week.

“I’m really proud of Oregonians, the way they stepped up to do whatever was needed to make it happen,” he said.

McMichaels himself was at the site seven days a week, oftentimes for 16 hours a day.

The war memorial features an illuminated 40-foot-wide fountain with an 8-foot bronze statue of a soldier kneeling on a pedestal rising out of the United States. With an outstretched hand, the soldier is gesturing “freedom to the world.” The world is displayed in the form of a stainless steel map at the bottom of an oval pool. Surrounding the pool are flags representing every branch of the military, prisoners of war, the United States and the State of Oregon.

A specially-designed tank pumps 900 gallons of water a minute through the fountain, and jet sprayers create a constant mist. The water features shut off automatically if the outside air reaches a certain temperature or the wind reaches a certain level. The memorial also has a granite wall inscribed with the names of Oregon soldiers who have died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

A “Support Our Troops” motorcycle rally will precede the service on Memorial Day. McMichaels said riders from all corners of the state will meet at the Afghan-Iraqi Freedom War Memorial at 12:30 p.m. on May 28 to honor veterans who died and who served the country. He encourages all union members to ride their motorcycles to the Memorial Day event.

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