News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Sisters veterans honor the fallen

There was anguish in the voice of Sylvester Van Oort, the keynote speaker at Sisters’ Memorial Day service, held at the Village Green on Monday.

He described the terrible fate of Don Bullock, a 17-year-old who lied about his age to join the United States Marine Corps to serve his country in Vietnam. Just a handful of days after arriving in Saigon, he was killed by a satchel charge flung through the window of his living quarters.

“We’re sorry, Don, that you had to die so young,” Van Oort cried. “It wasn’t fair to you at all.”

The World War II veteran mourned those like Bullock, who died young and could not enjoy the blessings of the life they died to defend.

“Can we ever, ever forget these soldiers, men and women, in their graves?” he said. “They gave it all to us.”

Van Oort’s remarks were a powerful highlight of the annual Memorial Day observances put on by Sisters Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 8138 and American Legion Post 86.

Mayor Michael Preedin thanked the volunteers who made the event possible.

VFW Post Commander Pat Bowe served as master of ceremonies, and encouraged everyone to remember what Memorial Day is truly about. For many, it is a three-day weekend marking the beginning of summer with barbecues and gatherings. And the Sisters veterans provided that conviviality in the wake of the service. But the primary mission of the day is to remember those who have fallen in America’s wars.

The event was solemn, but not somber. David Wentworth offered a stunning a cappella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” with those in attendance joining in. Sisters piper Steve Allely contributed the martial tone of the bagpipes, in conjunction with the presentation and retiring of the colors by the Redmond Junior ROTC. Bugler Chris Patrick played “Taps” as a final salute to the fallen.

Van Oort, 96 years old, is a resident of The Lodge in Sisters. He acknowledged his friend Ted, a veteran of the Korean War, whose experience is a stark reminder of the price paid by those who have served in combat. Ted fought among 200 men in a year of battle in the conflict that raged on the Korean Peninsula in the early 1950s. After a year of combat, that contingent had been reduced to 100.

Van Oort recounted the terrible 30 percent casualty rate suffered by Marines and Army personnel on Iwo Jima and Okinawa in 1945, as the U.S. military island-hopped toward Japan as the Pacific Campaign of World War II reached a savage crescendo.

Van Oort, drafted in February, 1945, expected to fight as an infantryman in Germany. After the Nazi surrender in May 1945, his cohort was diverted to train for the looming invasion of Japan. The anticipated casualty rate of 30 percent meant that one million men would fall dead or wounded. The sergeant who trained Van Oort cried as the soldiers left his charge to stage for the invasion.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m in trouble,’” Van Oort recalled.

But the invasion never came, because President Harry S. Truman ordered the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.

Van Oort reflected on the agonizing choice Truman faced. U.S. military planners knew the bombs would create unprecedented destruction on a target where thousands of civilians, including women and children, would be killed. Yet, the alternative was to sacrifice one million American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in a grueling invasion and combat that was anticipated to last for another year.

“Don’t think this was an easy decision on the part of President Truman,” Van Oort said. “It was a hard decision.”

It was a decision that may well have spared Sylvester Van Oort’s life, allowing him to finish out his service as a military policeman and go on to enjoy a long and fruitful life, and to carry a message to the Sisters community where he resides — a message of remembrance for the sacrifice of so many young men and women of the United States Armed Services:

“I hope we remember and never, never forget all they did for us.”

Author Bio

Jim Cornelius, Editor in Chief

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Jim Cornelius is editor in chief of The Nugget and author of “Warriors of the Wildlands: True Tales of the Frontier Partisans.” A history buff, he explores frontier history across three centuries and several continents on his podcast, The Frontier Partisans. For more information visit


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