Oregon Chapter Member Leads Effort to Honor POW/MIA Veterans

Oregon Chapter Member Leads Effort to Honor POW/MIA Veterans
Lt. Col. Dick Tobiason, USA (Ret), far left, members of the Crook County High School Navy Junior ROTC unit, and others, dedicate a sign along Oregon's new POW/MIA Memorial Highway in September. (Courtesy photo)

By Blair Drake, contributing editor


Members of the Central Oregon Chapter were instrumental in an effort to honor Oregonians who were prisoners of war (POWs) and those listed as missing in action (MIA). On Sept. 19, 2020 — National POW/MIA Recognition Day — Oregon’s 471-mile stretch of U.S. Highway 26 was dedicated as the state’s official POW/MIA Memorial Highway. It honors the 920 Oregonians who were POWs and approximately 1,000 who are still listed as MIA since World War I. It is believed to be the first border-to-border POW/MIA memorial highway in the nation.


Chapter member Lt. Col. Dick Tobiason, USA (Ret), led the multiyear project through his organization Bend Heroes Foundation.


He said envy is what initiated the idea for the project. “[My wife and I] are retired, and we’ve traveled around and seen these highways elsewhere,” he said. “We didn’t have any in Bend to honor veterans, so I decided to change that.”


He began by successfully lobbying the Oregon legislature to create the memorial highway. He then raised $20,000 through individual and group donations to pay for the fabrication and installation of 10 roadside signs.


He and other members of the Central Oregon Chapter helped with several of the highway dedication ceremonies, which occurred at six locations along the route. Tobiason served as master of ceremonies at the Madras and Prineville dedication events. Over 100 people, including POW/MIA families and three state legislators, attended these two ceremonies. Lt. Col. Mack Gardner, USA (Ret), helped organized the Madras ceremony, and Col. Dennis McMahon, USAF (Ret), unveiled the POW/MIA sign at the Prineville ceremony.


According to Tobiason, Idaho has agreed to continue the POW/MIA Memorial Highway along its 401-mile section of U.S. Highway 26.


He hopes the signs are an important reminder to those traveling the highway. “We want to educate the traveling public and let the families of POWs and MIAs know Oregon supports their hopes and prayers for the return of their loved one’s remains,” Tobiason said.


Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years. 


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