Flags flew at half-staff Saturday afternoon at McKenzie Park where the Hermiston High School class of 1967 honored two of their classmates, Lance Cpl. Dick Miller and Staff Sgt. John Ware, who died fighting overseas in the Vietnam War.
The group, celebrating its 50th class reunion, dedicated two new park benches in memory of Miller and Ware, sharing heartfelt and tearful stories about both men and praising all veterans for their service to the country.
“I know thanks isn’t enough for what you went through, and what you carry with you,” said Ray Tracy, who helped to organize the event. “But you are appreciated, and you are loved.”
Miller was shot and killed on May 12, 1969 while serving in the Marine Corps in South Vietnam. Ware was lost in a helicopter crash later that same year in South Vietnam and was missing in action for nearly nine years before being officially declared killed in action on Aug. 21, 1978. His body was never recovered.
Tracy said he got to know Miller and Ware from their days together at Hermiston High. He described Ware as a funny guy, interested in cars and drove a nice Camaro. Tracy also worked summers with Miller loading watermelons from the field during harvest.
“If they’re looking down on us, I know they’re just taken in by the love we’re showing,” Tracy said.
The idea to install memorial benches at McKenzie Park came from previous HHS class reunions in honor of their fallen classmates. The class of 1964 dedicated one bench to Greg Gessel, who was killed in Vietnam on Sept. 14, 1967, and the class of 1965 dedicated a bench to Gordon Spearman, who was killed on March 10, 1971.
Tracy said the class of 1967 wanted to do something similar for Miller and Ware. Back in January, a committee formed to begin fundraising for the project, reaching out to fellow class members for support.
Tom Ditton, an attorney in Hermiston, also assisted on the committee. His original plan was to buy just one bench with both men’s names on it.
“I wasn’t sure how much money we could raise,” Ditton said.
Benches cost $1,500 each, and the class of 1967 eventually came forward with $2,300. After speaking with Hermiston Parks and Recreation Director Larry Fetter, Ditton said the city volunteered to cover the cost of a second bench — one for Miller and one for Ware.
“I was just overwhelmed with the support that came to me,” Ditton said. “This is a great project.”
At the end of the day, Ditton said it doesn’t matter what your politics are, or what you thought about the war. What matters is Miller and Ware stood up and made the sacrifice.
“That’s really to be appreciated and honored,” Ditton said.
Contact George Plaven at email@example.com or 541-966-0825.
This story has been updated to reflect correct dates of death for Greg Gessel and Gordon Spearman.