Just past the greenery of the Hoyt Arboretum in Washington Park sits a different type of garden. Beginning with a fountain and spiraling up a grassy hillside, the Garden of Solace is a memorial dedicated to the 57,000 men and women of Oregon who served in Vietnam.
“The thing I always feel is the calm, the peacefulness,” said Clayton Hering, a Vietnam veteran who was instrumental in the creation of the memorial. He walks through the garden, greeting visitors and reflecting on the 30 years since it was built. “And that’s what it’s meant to be — a garden of solace.”
Hering and Doug Bomarito, a fellow veteran and former chair of the memorial committee, became involved in the project in 1982, after a group of Oregon veterans and the parents of a soldier killed in combat attended the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. They wanted a place to honor Oregon's Vietnam veterans that was closer to home, so they formed the Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial Fund and spent the next several years fundraising and planning.
The memorial, which opened in 1987, was a true community effort. Architects, construction crews and event planners donated their services, and veterans and their families grabbed shovels and rakes to help create the garden path. Architect Doug Macy donated the design, a spiraling path up a hill flanked by granite monuments, carved with the names of the nearly 800 Oregon soldiers killed or missing in Vietnam. The spiral pattern is meant to evoke birth, life, death and rebirth.
The Garden of Solace is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, free of charge. The Vietnam Veterans of Oregon Memorial Fund paid for the construction of the memorial, and the funding for its maintenance is still provided through donations, including a bottle and can collection. A group of volunteer veterans tends to the grounds each month.
“That was a real sense of pride for us,” Bomarito said of the ongoing fundraising efforts. “We were not going to have the taxpayers build it.”
The two men also take pride in another aspect of the memorial’s design. It honors veterans chronologically, without taking a political stance on the war itself. There is a stone for each year of the conflict, engraved not only with soldiers’ names but with events happening in Oregon during that time. To Hering, it's important to provide that context for future generations of visitors to the Garden of Solace.
“We want to give people a sense of that history," he said. "To show them what it was like.”