Wilsonville Spokesman
A salute to service
Rick and Elizabeth Peters make a statement of thanks to vets - and it may be just the beginning. Part 1 of 2
Photo: news
Photo By Curt Kipp
Rick Peters, owner, and Jere Harley, artist, stand by the Peterbilt Peters bought and Harley decorated as a salute to all American veterans. 
By Curt Kipp
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 sides.
   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 get made.
   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 statement.
   “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,” he said.
   His brother was a Marine colonel who served in Vietnam, and most of his uncles served in World War II.
   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 the troops.
   “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.”
   Sacrifices made
   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 and afterwards.
   “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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