Cameron Smith talks at the Veterans Reception at the Lebanon Senior Center. (Mark Ylen/Democrat-Herald)

LEBANON — Sixty years ago, Walt Rasch transported troops and supplies during the Korean War.

On Thursday afternoon, the 81-year-old Rash, who has lived in Sweet Home about four years, was among about 100 people who gathered at the Lebanon Senior Center to honor mid-valley veterans.

Rasch served in the Air Force, but there were veterans of every major branch of the service represented.

“It was excellent,” Rasch said of the program that included vocal and instrumental music provided by students at East Linn Christian Academy.

Cameron Smith, who has been director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs since March, said the department is caring for four generations of service men and women — WWII/Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War and Iraq/Afghanistan.

“Many of these veterans face challenges from the time they spent in war,” said Smith, who succeeded Albany native Jim Willis in the position.

Smith said the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs is charged with helping veterans file claims and receive counseling, get assistance with home loans, and for some, provide shelter at the new veterans home under construction near the Samaritan Health Sciences Campus in Lebanon.

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He said progress on the facility is moving rapidly with a targeted completion date of late 2014.

The ODVA cannot provide needed services without partnerships that range from education to employment opportunities for veterans, Smith emphasized.

“About one-third of veterans utilize the service benefits that are available to them,” Smith said. “We must do more outreach and and education awareness.”

Smith is the great-grandson of U.S. Navy five-star fleet admiral Chester W. Nimitz of WWII fame. He enlisted in the Marine Corps on Sept. 10, 2001 in Boston, Mass. — one day before the United States was attacked by Al-Qaeda terrorists, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths on 9/11.

Smith, 35, served in the Marines for five years, rose to the rank of captain and served three tours of duty in Iraq. He previously served as military and veterans’ affairs adviser to governors Kulongoski and Kitzhaber.  

“This county does it right,” Smith said of Linn County’s commitment to veterans.

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Alex Paul is the Linn County reporter for the Democrat-Herald. He can be contacted at 541-812-6114 or alex.paul@lee.net.