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Volley shots are fired in salute to Sgt. Curtis A. Oaks during the dedication of the memorial garden Sunday. Photos by Katharine Egli | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Veteran honored in memorial dedication

About 50 people, including local and state officials, gathered Saturday to remember an Alexander High School graduate who was killed while fighting for his country last year.

The ceremony, which took place in front of John Light Hall on the Nelsonville campus of Hocking College, honored Staff Sgt. Curtis “Moose” Oakes. Oakes, a graduate of Hocking, died Nov. 29 in Anbar Province, Afghanistan.

“It is a delight to be here today to celebrate one of our soldiers who we lost way too early in Afghanistan,” said Dr. Roger Buck, the staff advisor for the Hocking College Veterans Group and interim director of the Hocking College Counseling Center. “Wherever we come from, we are all gathered here because of one indisputable fact. … This man exemplified the best of our society.”

Representatives from the offices of Sens. Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown and U.S. Reps. Bob Gibbs and Steve Austria were also in attendance.

Oakes was the first veteran to be honored at the newly opened memorial garden, which will be named in his honor. The memorial consists of a newly planted tree, a plaque, three flagpoles and a small rock garden.

As more veterans die, more memorials will be added to the garden, said Buck, a Vietnam veteran. There were 189 student veterans registered at Hocking as of August.

Oakes’ wife, Brandy, said he was killed while on a training mission to teach Afghanis. Oakes never made it to a hospital.

“Curtis is my hero,” said Kelly Harnett, a Hocking graduate who went to college with Oakes. “He was a great man, and I made a promise to him that he would never be forgotten.”

Oakes was honored with a 21-gun salute and the playing of “Taps” by the Nelsonville Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“When one of your buddies gets killed, it sucks,” said Sgt. Jordan Portier, who served in Afghanistan with Oakes. “You talk to someone one day, and then they’re gone the next. I can’t describe it. … It just sucks.”

The memorial was funded through private donations and will honor not only Oakes but also all those who have served in the U.S. military. A scholarship was also created in Oakes’s name.

“Thank you buddy for your loyalty, your laughter and your love,” Valerie Oakes, Curtis’ mother, said in a speech. “It’s so hard to imagine you are gone but you are everywhere now. … Your warmth keeps us at peace.”

After graduating from Alexander High School, Oakes studied wildlife management and agriculture at Hocking College and graduated in 2002. He joined the Army in 2003 and served as a fire-support specialist in both Iraq and Afghanistan, serving multiple tours of duty.

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