June 24, 2003 11:00 pm

Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of the one of the biggest yet most tragic events to hit La Grande in some time. Grayback Forestry organized a memorial service and presented a stone monument to honor the lives of five wildland firefighters who were killed in a motor vehicle accident while on their way from La Grande to help Colorado battle its worst fire season in recent memory.

THE SERVICE at the Blue Mountain Conference Center was a fitting tribute to the five people from the La Grande-based crew — five people who represent the spirit, drive and dedication of those who choose to risk their lives on behalf of others.

Let us not forget the contributions and the dedication of the five whose lives ended so abruptly while pursuing their mission to help:

• Retha Shirley, 19, La Grande,

• Daniel Rama, 28, Baker City,

• Bartholomew Bailey, 20, Baker City,

• Jacob Martindale, 20, Boise,

• Zachary Zigich, Twin Falls, Idaho.

"Their mission was clear,'' Rance Smith of the Men's Christian Network in Medford told a crowd of about 200 at Saturday's service. "They were trained firefighters going to do a job. These young people were acting on a need greater than themselves. They were heroes.''

TO HONOR THE FIVE and other firefighters, Grayback has teamed up with the La Grande Fire Department and the U.S. Forest Service to plan a memorial park. The memorial will be built on the grounds of the La Grande Fire Hall at Cove and Cherry streets. The stone monument dedicated to the five Grayback firefighters will be the cornerstone of the park, but the overriding theme will be a tribute to all firefighters.

John Schuyler, deputy supervisor of the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, said the memorial park will honor all who pick up a shovel or a Pulaski and fight to protect people and property.

Grayback's contribution to Saturday's service and the monument for the memorial park will provide a lasting tribute to the five firefighters who died a year ago. The five will forever be remembered at La Grande's firefighter memorial.


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