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Let’s Take A Drive: 'Leaving on a jet plane' fits tribute

Let’s Take A Drive: 'Leaving on a jet plane' fits tribute

A moving program at this year’s Veterans Day assembly at the middle school, a trip up to Forest Grove to watch the Warriors post one of their biggest victories in recent memory and hometown firefighters making their way up I-5 are all included in this week’s drive.

Let’s get right to it.

First stop — Philomath Middle School

Eric Niemann’s decision to play John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane” with a slide show of the Vietnam veteran’s life seemed appropriate in more than one way.

First, Paul Jeffrey Cochran said good-bye to his family, including his dear grandmother in Philomath, and flew overseas to fight communism in Vietnam.

“I’m leavin’ on a jet plane; don’t know when I’ll be back again.” (The song’s most famous recording was by Peter, Paul and Mary).

Second, Denver wrote the song in 1966, the year Cochran graduated from Philomath High School. And third, just to throw this in as a coincidence, the famous singer would die years later in 1997 in a plane crash off the coast of California, although it wasn't a jet.

Shifting gears now, back when Cochran was in high school, he wasn't allowed to speak at graduation because of the topic. 

“My brother that was killed was really a special young man,” said Shane Fritz, Cochran’s sister who graduated from PHS in 1970 and today lives in Stayton. “When he was in junior high, he competed in a speech contest and he thought a lot about freedom and democracy. He wanted to speak at (PHS) graduation in ’66 about why it was important to stop the spread of communism, but was denied the opportunity.”

Denied the opportunity?

“The teacher, who made the decision, I think she felt guilty,” Fritz said. “I was asked to speak at my graduation in ’70 and I don’t think my speech was at all memorable or anything, but I think part of it was she felt terrible that she denied him that opportunity.”

Cochran’s mother died just last year and in her will, donated a house and lot to the city to be used as a park with a memorial to her son.

Fritz said Thursday’s program would’ve meant a lot to her.

“One of her saddest experiences was losing her Gold Star necklace,” Fritz said. “I had taken her to the hospital in Corvallis to have, I think X-rays ... In the process, she ended up losing that and she talked about how that was the necklace that she wore close to her heart.”

Side trip — Forest Grove High School

Denee Newton won’t win coach of the year in the Oregon West Conference and that’s a shame. It’s pretty automatic for those honors to go to the coach of the team that wins the conference title. In fact, the whole process for what players get recognized on all-conference teams is pretty much tied to the team’s success.

That works to a certain degree but when it’s tied to a number that seems predetermined, well, that doesn’t seem right. (Kane Rust not on first team in football in 2018 — I’m still baffled at that one). I’m getting off my point here but just so you know, those methods used to pick all-league teams have always bugged me.

Back to Denee. I’m sure the Sisters and Sweet Home coaches did a fine job but heading into the season, they were favored to battle it out for the league crown. I’m sure Philomath wasn’t given much of a chance with those two teams considered among the best in all of Class 4A.

Denee likes to talk about the team’s progress and what the players need to work on as we do interviews from week to week. New formations, the serve receive, perfecting the attack, developing young talent, improving on-court communication and so on. From what I saw late in the season, Philomath was a whole lot better from those early matches.

When we talked following the win over Sisters Friday, Denee collapsed in the hallway to get off her feet for a few minutes. She had been coaching hard and with all of the excitement of the victory, it obviously had taken a lot out of her. Those younger athletes on Philomath’s roster had backed up the established players and made a big difference in the outcome. To me, that’s a result of great coaching — from what they were able to do physically but also mentally. Those are qualities you see in a coach of the year.

Final stop — I-5 North

While heading home on I-5 Saturday afternoon from the state cross-country meet, I came upon a convoy of fire trucks. I immediately wondered if Philomath was among those heading north and sure enough, that turned out to be the case with Corvallis and Lebanon vehicles also in the group.

Philomath sent four firefighters to California as part of several strike teams from Oregon. Fire Chief Tom Miller along with firefighter Christian Coerper, volunteer Capt. Andy Louden and resident Volunteer Cody Webb all made the trip. They fought at three different fires and were among those that stayed in California the longest out of those strike teams.

As I passed them on I-5, I honked at the Philomath truck as a sort of hello and welcome home, but then I quickly realized they would have no idea who I was and it seemed dumb that I had done it. In fact, sometimes other cars honk at you on the interstate because there’s something wrong with your vehicle!

I went by the trucks in the last mile before hitting the Corvallis exit. And I had the thought that those guys must’ve had a feeling of excitement at that moment as they got closer and closer to getting home. They had been gone since Oct. 27, away from their families, working in dangerous conditions with shifts that included 24 hours straight.

I bet it felt great to climb into bed at home that night.

Brad Fuqua is editor of the Philomath Express. He can be reached at


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