Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald


For the Baker City Herald

RICHLAND - The John Holcomb Memorial Park, two miles east of Richland, was officially dedicated Tuesday.

All who came to the park dedication appeared pleased with the development. Laughter and warm smiles continued long after the ceremony had concluded.

The event got under way at 2 p.m. Despite a light rain during the initial activities of the ceremony, more than 40 people turned out to see the park improvements and afterward took part in refreshments at the comfort center.

Those involved with bringing the park to completion were thrilled to see everything finally coming together. Others who came to see the final product were just as excited as those involved.

"Everything they've done here is wonderful," said Peg Coffin, one park observer.

"They have really made a lot of improvements to the park," said Jenny Anderson, of Richland.

The area was dedicated in honor of John Holcomb, son of 91-year-old Wadean Holcomb and the late George Holcomb, who died in 1995.

"I think it's wonderful what they are doing here," Wadean Holcomb said of the completed park.

John Noble Holcomb was awarded the Medal of Honor, the military's highest honor, for acts of bravery under fire in defending his troops. He is Baker County's only Medal of Honor recipient.

Holcomb was a U.S. Army sergeant serving in Company D, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division, when he was killed in action at the age of 22.

He was born on June 11, 1946, in Baker City, graduated from Eagle Valley High School at Richland in 1964 and died Dec. 3, 1965, in Vietnam.

Holcomb Park first was dedicated in his honor on July 4, 1993.

Park Director Karen Spencer said park work began seven years ago. She thanked the project workers for all their efforts and for all the extra time they put into the park.

"Heart and soul has truly been planted here," Spencer said.

Four years ago Spencer went to lunch with Wadean Holcomb and learned all about her son, John, and his sacrifice for his fellow soldiers and his country during the Vietnam War.

Holcomb showed Spencer pictures of her son and of some of the honors he had received. Though her son had been honored with a small memorial years ago, Wadean wished to see a park dedicated to him at Richland someday before she died. Spencer was so moved by Wadean's story and of John's sacrifice that she promised she would build Wadean a park for her son.

At the dedication ceremony Spencer turned and smiled at Wadean, "It may have taken a long time, but I have built you your park."

Spencer said her favorite part of the process of developing the park was finally being able to plant trees and to develop the landscape.

"The first part of the project was the most expensive," she said. "Putting in a sewer dump station, a well, and later power lines. With these things you have very little to show for your work.

"For me, the second part of the project was by far the best part and definitely the cheapest."

More than 100 trees were planted about the park and grass has been planted as well.

There are 26 spaces for RV hookups and tent camping along with a picnic area, fully functioning bathrooms and showers, a boat ramp and a fish-cleaning station.

The ceremony began with a presentation by the Veteran of Foreign Wars, Halfway Post 7847, and the raising of the flag. Oregon National Guard Specialist Luis Delapaz and company provided honor detail. Holcomb received a flag in honor of her son's valiant actions on the field.

Capt. Joseph Lundell presented the Congressional Medal of Honor citation. The ceremony concluded with an Oregon National Guard bugle presentation of taps.

The park still has a few minor details and fine-tuning left to be completed, but overall it is just about finished.

Fred Warner Jr., Baker County Commission chair, also spoke at the ceremony.

"Lots of people worked really hard for this," he said. "Thanks to all of you who worked hard to bring us Holcomb Park."

Richland Mayor Gloria Wilson congratulated and thanked all who were a part of bringing about the park and the new addition it brings to the community. She ended with a poem about fishing.

Contract Supervisor Don Fink expressed his appreciation to the general contractor, Hampton Paving of La Grande, for its employees' hard work. The crew of 10 took several trips to finish the park throughout the last seven years.

"It was amazing to watch them on their efforts on this project," Fink said. "It truly was like an orchestra pulling together this beautiful work of art."

He took a moment to specially thank Spencer for her personal work effort and for taking a strong lead as park director.

The park was funded by the Baker County Parks and Recreation Department, Idaho Power Co., an Oregon State Marine Board Facilities grant, an Oregon Park and Recreation County and Local Opportunity Grant and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.