|A salute to service
Elizabeth Peters make a statement of thanks to vets -
and it may be just the beginning. Part 1 of 2
By Curt Kipp
By Curt Kipp
Peters, owner, and Jere Harley, artist,
stand by the Peterbilt Peters bought and
Harley decorated as a salute to all American
Rick Peters drives a Peterbilt dump truck that can carry
105,000 pounds of dirt and rocks — but its true payload
can’t be measured by weight.
It’s gratitude — gratitude for every
man and women who has put on a uniform and served the
United States military.
And it’s a payload delivered in solemn
words and colorful icons that have been painted on its
A bald eagle. An American flag. An upturned
helmet in the sand.
The flag raising at Iwo Jima. And John
15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay
down one’s life for his friends.”
All speaking the same message, which
is also painted on the truck.
“Thank you, veterans.”
Rick purchased the truck and had it
painted by Portland artist Jere Harley.
It was a remarkable step to take, given
the cost of the truck — about $250,000 — and the fact
that Rick isn’t a truck driver by trade.
“I can back it up straight,” Rick said,
“but it’s tricky.”
In fact, Rick is an investment adviser,
and his wife, Elizabeth, is the communications director
for the Oregon Restaurant Association.
They purchased the truck with hopes
of giving a veteran gainful employment as the driver.
Rick is driving it now simply so the sizable payments
It was just the first step in an ambitious
set of plans to thank veterans.
Rick and Elizabeth have formed the Oregon
Veterans Foundation, with hopes of creating a one-stop
campus where veterans can obtain medical care and receive
other needed services.
“We feel it’s our responsibility,” Rick
said. “It isn’t up to the veterans to thank themselves.”
“It offers us an open platform to talk
about the center,” Elizabeth said.
The truck elicits a positive response
everywhere Rick takes it. “Every single day that I’ve
run with a load, or not, people have given me a thumbs
up,” he said.
He has encountered several people who
have relatives currently serving in the Middle East, but
Rick is quick to note that the truck is not a political
“We’re not supporting any particular
stance on the war,” Rick said. “That’s important. What
we’re supporting is the men and women who go over there.”
A meaningful project
The message is intensely personal for
the artist, Jere Harley, 62, as well.
“The pictures are made to make more
of an emotional impact,” Jere said. “This helmet on the
beach — it could be Normandy, or it could be Iwo Jima,
or it could be Guadalcanal.”
He freely admits that he borrows images
from other works, be they paintings or statues or photographs.
“I paint cliches,” he said. “I’ve painted
the American eagle about 50,000 times. That’s an exaggeration.”
At the same time, Jere contends that
his work is as significant as anyone’s, despite being
told that airbrush painting is artistically “not valid.”
“By painting trucks, you’re working
for somebody. It’s meaningful to them,” he said. “It means
much more to me than hanging stuff in a gallery, where
they don’t care.”
Jere’s favorite image on the truck shows
a soldier coming to the aid of his wounded comrade. It
is an image he borrowed from a statue. At one point while
working on it, he became so emotional he couldn’t continue.
“I cried so hard at what I’d done that
I couldn’t work on it,” he said. “I went out and painted
the eagle instead.”
Jere has been painting signs and trucks
for the past 30 years, and this may be one of his final
projects. He has stage four cancer that started in his
colon and has spread to his lungs. He spent three weeks
painting the truck.
“During that time, I had just gone through
radiation, which just knocks the crap out of you,” he
said. “Once I start painting, the pain leaves. When you
focus your mind on something you truly love to do, it
takes your consciousness out of the physical realm. Even
though the pain is still there, you don’t feel it.”
Like Rick and Elizabeth, Jere has never
served in the military, but he feels a strong kinship
for those who have.
“Most of my family has been in the military,”
His brother was a Marine colonel who
served in Vietnam, and most of his uncles served in World
During the same war, Jere’s father worked
at an oil refinery and volunteered for the Navy. Navy
officials told him to stay where he was. He was more valuable
to the war effort there.
Jere did not support the Vietnam War,
nor does he support the current Iraq War. He believes
American leaders made a mess of both. However, he supports
“For me, there’s a great difference
between the policy purposes perpetrated by our government
and the guys who go fight these wars,” he said. “The public
gets caught up in the political dialogue and doesn’t realize
the guys who go fight are just ordinary guys who need
a job. They’re our uncles, fathers, brothers and cousins.”
Jere himself was drafted into the military
during the Vietnam War, but never served.
“By the time they wanted to draft me,
I was a hippie and I was totally against the war,” he
said. “(When I showed up at the induction center), they
sent me home. They didn’t want me.”
Although none of the three — Rick, Elizabeth
or Jere — have served in a military conflict, they all
know that the sacrifices are made both during service
“Some get wounded,” Rick said. “Some
don’t get a scratch. But no one comes back unscathed.”
“Most of the guys I know never talk
about it, either,” Jere said.
Thanking veterans for their sacrifice
— that is where the three of them find common ground.
And that’s why Rick and Elizabeth have found working with
Jere to be such a positive experience.
“I’m always amazed at people who could
do something like this,” Rick said. “I couldn’t do it
if my life depended on it.”
Looking back, Jere has no regrets —
not with projects like the tribute truck under his belt.
“My life has been incredible,” he said.
“I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I’m very much at peace
with myself. And I hope to continue doing it as long as
I stay alive.”
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