“We have to make sure it doesn’t happen to (Iraq and Afghanistan) veterans.” — Thomas Laing,
Video below: Downing Street Singers from Churchill High School present the “Star Spangled Banner,” and the Color Guard from VFW Post 3965 presents the Colors.
Tom Egan is said to have had few friends when he froze to death in 2008, but he’s got a loyal following now.
Several dozen trekked to the north end of Blair Blvd. in Eugene, Oregon Dec. 18 to remember the veteran whose death awakened the community to the plight of the homeless, especially in deadly cold weather. They represented faith communities, Egan Warming Center staff and volunteers, veterans groups, local government, and a very few of the 300 to 350 homeless adults and youth who utilize the Egan Warming Center.
Old friends of Tom Egan told of a quirky guy who once disposed of a Volvo using a chainsaw and cutting torch, hauling it to the scrapyard in chunks over a period of months. A guy who got his bachelors without ever springing for a textbook and who chose Albanian as his second language for his masters program, figuring if he learned any it would be enough.
A training officer who imprinted a lesson on hand grenades by pulling the pin from one. Commissioner Pat Farr who served with Tom Egan in the 162nd Infantry O.N.G. remembers it well.
Tom Egan’s friend of 40 years, Kate Saunders recalled that on the night he died, Tom Egan could have asked for and likely received help. But he did not reach out, hadn’t for some time. In his earlier years Tom had sent, humorously, Albanian Christmas cards. Kate’s last letter was found on his body.
She likened homelessness to Tom Egan’s Volvo and commended the Egan Warming Center volunteers for hacking away at it. She said her friend Tom would have appreciated it, and she sleeps better on cold nights because of it.
All speakers agreed more must be done on behalf of veterans. Thomas Laing, representing Veterans of Foreign Wars, spoke of the huge number of veterans who are homeless now — 76,000 on one night in a recent nationwide count — and told of how those numbers will be compounded by forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, including members of the 162nd Infantry ONG of Springfield.
Said Thomas Laing, “We have to make sure it doesn’t happen to these veterans.”
Like the Egan Warming Center that carries his name, Tom Egan’s memorial inspired demonstrations of generosity. Joella Ewing and Janet Jacobsen of the Obsidians brought 100 pairs of wool socks donated by club members and purchased with money raised through a chili feed.
The daughter of a longtime Egan volunteer, Juniper Sennett was a little girl when her mother sang the National Anthem for an early Egan Memorial. Now 16, Juniper arrived with a white cross for Maj. Egan under one arm and a newly purchased sleeping bag under the other. The sleeping bag was quickly gifted to a bystander visibly in need of warmth.
Fr. Brent Was of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection offered prayer. Veteran Shelley Courteville extended her appreciation participants in the Egan Warming Center program, and SVdP Executive Director Terry McDonald presented the 5th Ripple of Hope Award to ALSCO, represented by a long line of employees who participate in the process of providing clean blankets to Egan Warming Center guests. ALSCO General Manager Bill Inge credited his staff and Barb Hutchens (pictured) in particular, for advocating for ALSCO’s participation. It was the first he’d heard of the program. He urged the audience to help spread the word.