Motorcyclists honor fallen soldiers

By Bill Rautenstrauch, For The Observer August 21, 2013 10:49 am

Warren Williamson, left,, executive director of Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest, presents a plaque to Gene Stephens, second from left, and Eva Jo Stephens, parents of John Scott Stephens. (Courtesy photo)
Warren Williamson, left,, executive director of Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest, presents a plaque to Gene Stephens, second from left, and Eva Jo Stephens, parents of John Scott Stephens. (Courtesy photo)
 

Two La Grande soldiers who lost their lives during the war in Iraq were honored as the Fourth Annual Oregon Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Motorcycle Ride came to town.

About 50 motorcyclists, based for the weekend at Wildhorse Resort in Pendleton, made the journey Aug. 11 to La Grande to present plaques of distinguished service to the families of John Scott Stephens and Michael Warren.

Stephens, a medic in the U.S. Army, died while on patrol in Tikrit, Iraq, on March 15, 2007. Warren, an Oregon National Guard soldier with the
La Grande-headquartered 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry, died of non-combat causes while stationed at Kirkuk, Iraq, in 2005.

Warren Williamson, executive director of Tribute to Fallen Soldiers Northwest, said his group organizes a ride to different parts of the Oregon each year, visiting with families who have lost loved ones, and presenting the special plaques. This year, the riders met with 10 Eastern Oregon families.

“Whether we have five or 500 riders, we’ll go to the soldiers’ homes and make sure they are never forgotten,” Williamson said.

To honor Stephens, the riders converged on Aug. 11 on Doc Stephens Field, the baseball diamond at Pioneer Park named in the soldier's honor. Present to accept the plaque were his parents, Gene and Eva Jo Stephens.

“I think it’s neat that they honor the young men who have been killed. It kind of brought back the pain, but in a good way,” Gene said following the ceremony.

John Scott Stephens was born May 16, 1965, in Prineville, and moved with his parents to La Grande when he was 18 months old. After graduating from La Grande High School in 1985, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and trained as a combat medic.

In his hometown, everybody knew him as Scott. In the Army, his comrades affectionately called him “Doc.” During his military career, he served in Germany, and deployed to Kosovo in 1996 and 1998.  He was 41 years old and on his third tour in Iraq when he was killed.

His mother, Eva Jo, said he was a caring individual devoted to the field of medicine. She said that early in his career, during a field exercise in Germany, he saved the life of a young gunner. The experience was a defining one.

“He wanted to be a doctor. He liked helping young kids,” Eva Jo said.

On March 15, 2007, his team was conducting a combat patrol in Tikrit when an armor-piercing grenade attack was initiated against the last vehicle on the patrol. The shrapnel pierced the right door of the vehicle, ending Stephens’ life.

When his body came home to
La Grande, Patriot Guard motorcycle riders provided an escort from the Union County Airport to the funeral chapel.

Eva Jo said the she was grateful for that, as she is for the remembrance Sunday at Doc Stephens Field.

“They made me think there are people out there who still care. We’re not forgotten,” she said.