ODVA Through the Years

In honor of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs’ 71st anniversary, which we recognize today, we offer a look back at some of the highlights from the agency’s history. The following are excerpts from the Vets News veterans newsletter, published regularly since Aug. 16, 1946.

Ten Years Ago

Afghan-Iraqi Freedom War Memorial Update, September/October 2006

MJ Kesterton (right) talks with contractor Rob Chisolm on the first day of groundbreaking for the new Afghan-Iraqi Freedom memorial

The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA) will soon have a new memorial honoring troops from Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. The new memorial will be on the ODVA grounds amongst other war memorials.

Clay and MJ Kesterson are the founders of the Afghan-Iraqi Freedom War Memorial Fund. Numerous donations from around the state have been received to build the memorial. In addition, the Oregon Legislature passed House Bill 2795 earmarking $100,000 to the project. Governor Kulongoski signed the bill on September 2nd, 2005. The Kestersons’ son, Erik, lost his life in service to his state and nation.

U.S. Army Warrant Officer Erik Kesterson served two tours with the United States Marine Corps. While serving in the Marines, Kesterson was awarded the Marine Corps Medal of Heroism for pulling seven comrades from a helicopter crash. After the attacks on 9/11, he was inspired to become a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the United States Army.

On November 15, 2003, Erik’s life was cut short as two UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters collided near Mosul, Iraq. The crash claimed the lives of 17 soldiers, including Kesterson. More than 65 Oregon servicemembers have lost their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Americal Veterans Visit Oregon and Award Scholarships, September/October 2006

The Americal Division Veterans’ Association (ADVA) recently held the organization’s National Reunion in Oregon. Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs (ODVA) Director Jim Willis was guest speaker at the banquet.

Americal veterans and families from across the nation were in attendance, including Medal of Honor Recipient Nick Bacon, who served thirteen years as the Director of Veterans Affairs for the State of Arkansas. Mr. and Mrs. Dave Hammond of Beaverton planned the reunion event that included a riverboat ride on the Willamette, a gold tournament, an evening picnic at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and much more.

“To these soldiers, the words ‘Duty, Honor and Country’ are more than just words. They represent what they believe in, and for many of their brothers and sisters, what they died for.”

A highlight of the banquet was the awarding of college scholarships with a total of $25,000 in scholarships being awarded. University of Oregon student Joel Reynolds was the first place $3,000 scholarship award winner. The 2006 ceremony marks the third straight year that an Oregon student was awarded an Americal scholarship.

Reynolds, who has ambitions of a double major and a master’s degree, was sponsored by his grandfather Jack Morton. Morton served in the 182nd Infantry Regiment during World War II.

“The reunion of the soldiers of the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) brought together those who had served in World War II as well as during the war in Vietnam. To these soldiers, the words ‘Duty, Honor and Country’ are more than just words. They represent what they believe in, and for many of their brothers and sisters, what they died for. It was Oregon’s honor to be their host,” said Willis.

Twenty Years Ago

Veterans' Home Groundbreaking, May/June 1996

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber and other dignitaries were on hand for the April 17th Groundbreaking Ceremony for the first Oregon Veterans’ Home in The Dalles. Over 500 guests from all areas of the state attended the late morning ceremony.

Following introductions by Wasco County Judge John Mabrey, ODVA Director Jon Mangis praised the many partnerships formed by this project. Mangis specifically recognized the site preparation work done by the Oregon Army National Guard, and the support of the citizens of Wasco County as evidenced by the passage of a bond levy necessary for the project.

Governor Kitzhaber opened his remarks by stating he was “honored to have been included” and gave those assembled a short history of the efforts made by veterans organizations, in particular the United Veterans Groups of Oregon, as they worked for the passage of the authorizing legislation. The Governor concluded his remarks by noting the Veterans’ Home as a “stellar example” of the type of partnership possible between state and local government.

Representatives from all of the statewide veterans service organizations were on hand to witness the ceremony, as were many from the local community. The Veterans’ Home, a 151-bed skilled care facility, has already begun its construction phase. The anticipated completion date is in late 1997.

From left, Major-General Raymond F. Rees, ODVA Director Jon A. Mangis and Governor John A. Kitzhaber

Thirty Years Ago

WWI Veteran Receives Long-Awaited Medals, July/August 1986

When Clell Conway was asked what he did in World War I, he replied, “Well, I didn’t stand around holding an umbrella.”

That proved to be quite understandable as Mr. Conway served with Company K, 26th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division of the U.S. Army and was wounded twice in battle, once by machine-gun fire and then two months later by artillery shelling. Private Conway served in France and participated in five major campaigns, specifically, the Montdidier-Noyon, Aisne-Marne, Meuse-Argonne, St. Mihiel and Defensive sectors.

Mr. Conway was overheard to say, “Why are you giving me these? I’m no hero.” Those in attendance had a different view.

On May 21, 1986, just six days after his 90th birthday, at the Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center, Vancouver, Washington, where he was being treated for a leg condition, Mr. Conway was surprised by Jon Mangis, Director of the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Mr. Mangis presented him with his long-awaited medals that he had earned so many years before on the battlefields of France. Mr. Mangis proudly pinned the Purple Heart with cluster (2nd award) and the World War I Victory Medal with five campaign bars on Mr. Conway’s chest to the applause of all present.

Mr. Conway was overheard to say, “Why are you giving me these? I’m no hero.” Those in attendance had a different view.

VFW Monument Dedicated, July/August 1986

VFW Veterans' Monument

On the original Memorial Day, May 30, Governor Atiyeh and ODVA Director Mangis proudly assisted in dedicating the new Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) bronze monument.

On the northern grounds of the ODVA in Salem, Director Jon Mangis stated that he was grateful for being a part of the dedication, “…we are very pleased that the monument is being placed here today on the Department grounds, a fitting site as it is dedicated by and for veterans.”

He specifically voiced gratitude to Monument Committee Chairperson Bob Owens, State VFW Commander Patrick Jordan, and former Advisory Committee member Carl Gustafson. The VFW is responsible for raising over $15,000.

Commander Jordan explained that the VFW Crest and each branch of armed forces are placed around the base. The front plate reads: “Dedicated to all who have served in the armed forces of the United States and those who even now guard the gates of freedom.”

He sculpted a face representative of a young soldier as so many of them were.

The original concept for the design belongs to Mrs. Carl Gustafson. Walla Walla artist Roger McGee, who produced the final product, is a Vietnam combat veteran. The work “came from the heart,” he said.

Roger McGee did not use the face of the model. He sculpted a face representative of a young soldier as so many of them were.

Forty  Years Ago

State Veterans’ Loans – Oregon No. 1 in Nation, January 1976

The Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs is the nation’s largest mortgage-originating institution for single-family homes. The top ranking is indicated by comparison of the Oregon figures with figures compiled by the Mortgage Bankers Association of America.

When the totals include single-family, multiple-family and commercial mortgages, the Department ranks 12th among institutions in the nation which make direct loans to buyers. But when the statistics are narrowed to cover only the number and dollar amount of single-family home mortgages (the only kind DVA makes) then the Department comes out No. 1.

The comparisons include mortgages outstanding on June 30 of last year. Oregon had 75,267 loans outstanding at that time, with dollar volume of $1,275,133,560. At the end of this March, the Department had 83,284 loans outstanding in the amount of $1,554,633,806.

Fifty  Years Ago

State Veterans’ Loans – Loans Pass Half-Billion-Dollar Mark, December 1966

The Oregon veterans’ farm and home loan programs went over the half-billion-dollar mark in November when the Department of Veterans’ Affairs granted a $16,500 loan to Leroy E. (Gene) Dowler to help him purchase a new home in Salem.

The 55,680 loans granted in this period would provide homes for the population of Salem, Eugene, Medford, Klamath Falls, and Pendleton combined

Dowler’s loan brought the dollar volume of the State veterans’ loan program to $500,007,024 since the program started 21 years ago. The 55,680 loans granted in this period would provide homes for the population of Salem, Eugene, Medford, Klamath Falls, and Pendleton combined.

Sixty  Years Ago

Script for State Aid, September 1956

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has prepared a 35-minute radio script calling attention to the December 31 deadline for World War II veterans to commence training under the Oregon veterans’ educational aid program.The script has been distributed to county veterans’ service officers and to the field staff of the Department, for use in radio stations throughout the state. But there are bound to be some localities not reached through these persons, and the Department will make the scripts available to any of the veterans’ organizations who wish to use them for broadcast in their communities.

The script has been distributed to county veterans’ service officers and to the field staff of the Department, for use in radio stations throughout the state. But there are bound to be some localities not reached through these persons, and the Department will make the scripts available to any of the veterans’ organizations who wish to use them for broadcast in their communities.Requests for the scripts should be sent to the Salem office of the Department.

Requests for the scripts should be sent to the Salem office of the Department.The script is a question-and-answer type of writeup, with the station announcer making the introduction, then asking questions pertaining to the educational aid program of the service officer or other person explaining the program.

The script is a question-and-answer type of writeup, with the station announcer making the introduction, then asking questions pertaining to the educational aid program of the service officer or other person explaining the program.

It is extremely important that Oregon’s World War II veterans be informed of the December 31 deadline, and any efforts the veterans’ organizations can lend toward accomplishing this purpose will certainly be appreciated by the veterans concerned.

An ODVA employee points to a different deadline for WWII vets in this picture from a 1952 issue of The Oregonian

Seventy  Years Ago

"Sweetheart" Bill, August 1946

The so-called Sweetheart bill recently approved by Congress allows veterans to bring their sweethearts (men or women) from foreign lands into the United States, provided marriage is the aim. The fiancee (or fiance) can come as a temporary visitor on a passport visa for three months.

If marriage is not completed in that time (except under extraordinary circumstances) then back the visitor must go. But if the parties are married, the alien becomes a permanent resident of the United States.

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has just succeeded in aiding a British girl to enter the States, and to come to Salem, where she married a local World War II veteran…

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs has just succeeded in aiding a British girl to enter the States, and to come to Salem, where she married a local World War II veteran, and by virtue of experience gained in handling this case, is in position to shortcut aid to other veterans desiring to bring their sweethearts to the States for marriage.

Service officers of the veterans’ organizations, and county service officers, can also provide help. More details are available at this office.