Retired veteran Dick Tobiason champions Central Oregon vets | Local&State
In his free time, Dick Tobiason cleans the Bend Heroes Memorial in Brooks Park. The 86-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel and Vietnam War veteran wipes pollen and dirt from the granite plaque engraved with the names of Bend residents who died while serving their country. The work is never a burden. Tobiason maintains the memorial to honor the veterans listed on the plaque. Last month, he prepared the site for a Memorial Day ceremony he is hosting Monday morning.
It will be the 16th year Tobiason has held the event at the park and placed flags along the Newport Bridge next to the memorial.
“It needs to be done,” Tobiason said. “Simple as that. It needs to be done.”
Tobiason, chairman of the Bend Heroes Foundation, a nonprofit organization he created 11 years ago, is involved year-round with veterans events and holidays in Central Oregon. His work has grown into establishing memorial highways across the state and country, and leading the Central Oregon Veterans Village project to help homeless veterans.
Local veterans say they would not get the same recognition and support without Tobiason.
“If Dick wasn’t doing that, I don’t know who would,” said Don DeLand, honor guard captain for the Redmond VFW and American Legion. “When he gets his teeth into something, he doesn’t let go.”
DeLand is impressed with how Tobiason works with the Oregon Legislature and lawmakers in other states to approve the memorial highways.
“Not everybody has that expertise or that time and dedication to do that and go talk to the legislatures and push for bills,” DeLand said.
Tobiason has traveled to Salem to advocate at the state capital at least once a year for the past 14 years. And he’s driven at least 5,000 miles to all the memorial highways he established in the state. For many state lawmakers, Tobiason is the face of veteran’s issues in Central Oregon.
“I’ve always felt I’ve had the interest and the energy and the time,” Tobiason said. “And I wanted to get these things done. It’s just to make sure veterans are not forgotten.”
Tobiason is reminded daily of his own military service. He still has shrapnel stuck in his lungs and his forehead from a hand grenade blast during his first tour in Vietnam in 1967. He earned a Purple Heart after surviving the attack.
He served as an Army pilot for 20 years, including his time flying Cessnas in Vietnam as a scout for fighter jets. After Vietnam, Tobiason worked for President Nixon on the National Aeronautics and Space Council, which oversees NASA, with Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders. Tobiason went on to careers with NASA, the National Transportation Safety Board and as a commercial pilot.
During his time in the Army, Tobiason met his wife Mary Jane while in Germany. The two have been married 60 years and have two sons and seven grandchildren.
Tobiason’s family still supports his dedication to helping other veterans, even during weeks when he’s working 60 to 80 hours instead of fishing and camping.
“My sons see it as a way of using my time wisely,” Tobiason said.
Erik Tobiason, a 51-year-old financial advisor in Bend and the youngest of two sons, said he is inspired by his father everyday and supports his efforts.
“He’s the energizer bunny. He’s a complete inspiration,” he said. “I don’t know if I can find anybody who is as dedicated to the cause and diligent about fulfilling a vision.”
Erik Tobiason helped his father establish the Bend Heroes Foundation as a way to create a lasting legacy and encourage others to get involved. The foundation has a board of nine people and a volunteer base of about 40 people.
“The vision is to help veterans,” Erik Tobiason said. “That will last forever.”
The elder Tobiason has been thinking about his legacy more often lately. He doesn’t know how many more years he will spearhead veterans events, but he’s at peace knowing everything he’s wanted to accomplish is done, or in the process of being completed.
“I’m on the downhill stretch,” Tobiason joked.
Tobiason, who was born in Boston and spent most of his working life in Virginia, retired to Bend in 1990, when the town had about 20,000 people and hardly any memorials for veterans.
“I didn’t see any flags,” Tobiason said. “I didn’t see any memorials.”
Eighteen years ago, Tobiason met Robert “Bob” Maxwell, a World War II veteran and a Medal of Honor recipient. Maxwell served as an Army Technician and jumped on a German grenade in September 1944, saving the lives of four American soldiers. For his heroics, Maxwell received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest medal for valor and bravery. He died May 11, 2019, at 98.
Tobiason called himself Maxwell’s promoter and made sure the veteran’s story was shared over the years. Tobiason was motivated by Maxwell to start creating events and memorials in the city. The work led to the creation of the Bend Heroes Memorial in 2009
Tobiason thinks of Maxwell, and other World War II veterans, every time he visits the memorial in Brooks Park.
“These are the people who saved the world from tyranny,” Tobiason said. “The memorials are important to remember what they did for the world.”
Tobiason enjoys seeing other people stop and soak in the memorial, the largest one in Central Oregon. Whenever he cleans the granite and brick, he watches people read the names of veterans and become emotional.
It’s a powerful experience for people and something Tobiason is proud to make possible.
“That’s how we got our freedoms,” Tobiason said. “We stand on their shoulders and we want to protect their heritage and legacy.”