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Gold Star mom works to bring memorial to Douglas County

Oct 10 2023
Drew Winkelmaier | The News-Review

The biggest fear a mother has when a son or daughter joins the military is that they will lose their life serving the country. In Douglas County there are at least five families who have had to face that reality.

After her son, Rory, committed suicide, Raeann Rutledge became a mother of a lost soldier. The U.S. Department of Defense classifies these families as Gold Star Families — those who lost a loved one in military service.

Born in Roseburg, Air Force Staff Sgt. Rory Berg was 24 when he died in 2011. A highly decorated soldier, his mother described him as ambitious and committed to the oath he dreamed of serving since he was a child. Berg earned various honors in his six years of service including Airman of the Year in 2009. He earned accolades for his contributions in rescuing three U.S. soldiers from Columbian terrorists, helping prevent over $4.6 billion of cocaine from entering the U.S. and more.

“I was told over and over of his honorable service, of a job well done but all I could remember was that little boy who was always having fun. It’s taken me a while — a lot of heartbreak, tears and grief — but I’ve found a place where I can finally breath. It is at home in my heart where he still resides. It’s where he’s always been and still lives beside. His brother is now in danger’s way and all I can do is hope and pray that it is not with his heart, mind or life he’ll have to pay,” Rutledge wrote in 2015 in memory of her son.

To honor her son’s memory and to give Gold Star Families a place to honor their loved ones, Rutledge is planning to create a memorial in Fir Grove Park next to the Roseburg National Cemetery.

“This isn’t about me; this isn’t for me. I’m at a point in my journey where I can talk about it openly and I want people to know that it is okay. That you can say the word suicide. We need to be aware of how many veterans we are losing a day,” Rutledge said. “We need to remember that there are boots on the ground in almost every country on this planet. There are mothers and fathers that lose sleep at night, afraid that they are going to get that phone call.”

Rutledge describes the fear she felt every day when someone was at her front door or when the phone rang in the middle of the night. Constantly afraid it would be that visit or that call. This fear eventually morphed into pain in 2011.

“I want to leave a legacy and I want to make sure my son is never forgotten, nor any of the other Gold Star Families here,” Rutledge said. “I guarantee you can ask any Gold Star Family member what their biggest fear is and it’s that their loved one will be forgotten.”

The memorial would allow for families to remember and grieve their loss, according to Rutledge.

Although she is in the early stages of the project, she expects the memorial to be completed in the summer of 2025. With a spectrum of support from veteran groups in Roseburg and from the Woody Williams Foundation, she feels the project is on the right track.

The memorial itself will feature four black granite slabs each with their own theme: Family, patriotism, sacrifice and homeland.

Rutledge said she is looking to raise funds for the approximately $125,000 project. For those who wish to contribute to the project can do so through the Woody Williams Foundation website.