By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Vets and kids at heart of Palacios' life

Juan Palacios may be attending a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting in a far-flung part of Oregon one day, helping organize a veterans’ memorial or construction of a ramp at a veteran’s house another day, and working with a youth organization the next.

“Veterans and kids are my main priority,” said Palacios, a retired Yamhill County sheriff’s deputy.

A U.S. Marine veteran of Vietnam, he is state advocate for the Oregon VFW and commander of VFW Post 10626, which serves McMinnville, Dayton and Lafayette. Being active in VFW addresses each of his priorities, since the organization helps both groups.

VFW gives food baskets and other help to veterans and National Guardsmen in need, sponsors a youth essay contest and a youth speaking contest called Voice of America, honors teachers for their work in promoting patriotism and donates to military assistance programs. It also supports youth programs, including the Boy Scouts and Sea Cadets.

“The Sea Cadets are my pride and joy,” said Palacios, who loves to see the teens perform military drills and help with projects, such as placing flags on Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Youth sports also warm his heart.

For 10 years, Palacios coached a pee wee baseball team in Dayton. His VFW post helped sponsor the team and bought uniforms.

The team also was affiliated with Drug Abuse Resistance Education, as Palacios was active in DARE as a deputy.

“I didn’t have kids or grandkids on it, but nobody else wanted to do it,” he said. He said he’d consider it if no one else volunteered, and found all of the equipment on his doorstep the next morning.

He enjoyed coaching. He said he ran the team like a unit of the Marines.

Today, he’s always thrilled when he runs into one of his former players, now grown up but still hailing him as “Coach.”

Palacios loves kids in general. “If I could have 50, I’d like it,” he said.

As it is, he has four of his own, including namesake Juan Jr., a student at McMinnville High School, and five grandchildren. He also has a foster daughter and calls her three children his grandkids.

Palacios knows positive activities are important for kids.

He spent his childhood in a Northern California lumber town, then moved to Chicago as a teen. He found himself in a rough inner-city neighborhood that produced factory workers and gang members.

“There was not much there,” he said. “I figured I had to go into the military or end up like them.”

He and friend Gilbert Gonzalez agreed to enlist in the Army on the buddy system. Gonzalez went to the recruiting office and signed up first. When Palacios followed the next day, he got waylaid by a Marine recruiter and ended up committing to the Marines.

“When I came home, people said, ‘Are you crazy?’” he recalled. “The Marines are really hard!”

While his buddy headed to Georgia for training, Palacios was sent to boot camp in San Diego. “I wasn’t used to being told what to do or when to do it,” he said, “but I learned to keep my mouth shut.”

Boot camp really wasn’t so bad, he said. “They broke you down, then built you up,” he explained, adding that he’s proud to say he made it through and earned the right to call himself a Marine.

Palacios went on to infantry school, then trained to be a wireman, charged with setting up communications systems. When he finished his schooling, he was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

“It was 1969 in the South and I didn’t feel comfortable,” he said. “I hated that place.”

The 18-year-old asked for a transfer and quickly received one — to Vietnam. He advanced from private to corporal during his tour.

Palacios returned to Camp Lejeune for 90 days, then shipped out again. He figured he was headed back to Vietnam, but ended up in Hawaii, where he served out the rest of his tour as a wireman at the air base there.

When his four years in the Marines ended, Palacios and his first wife, who had married in Hawaii, settled in Chicago. But he soon realized the city offered him no more than it had when he was a teen, so they loaded up the family van and headed to her home state of Oregon.

They ended up in Dallas, where he found a job pumping gas.

“I met one of the Polk County sheriff’s reserves,” Palacios recalled. “He asked if I spoke Spanish, then he recruited me.”

He was soon back in uniform, first as a reserve officer, then as a full-time deputy.

He spent six months working undercover as a narcotics agent. As a result of that, a dealer put out a contract on him, offering $700 and an ounce of drugs.

A few years later, the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office hired him away from Polk County. He was assigned to Dayton, which contracts with YCSO for law enforcement coverage.

“It was kind of exciting for a while,” Palacios said, not meaning that in a good way. “Then I got to know people, not just when they were having problems. That was kind of nice.”

The people of Dayton came to think of him not only as “their” deputy, but as one of them, since he lived in town.

He smiled as he recalled one case in which a young man failed to show up for court, so he had a talk with the youth’s parents. The next morning, when Palacios opened his front door to go to work, he found the young man sitting on his steps.

“He said his dad told him to come see me,” the deputy said. “That was one of the nicest things.”

Palacios recalled times when he did bar checks in Dayton and reminded people not to drive after drinking. Many times, he said, he drove people home himself.

“My dad told me to treat people the way you want to be treated,” he explained.

Though he’s now retired, some still contact him with questions about their dealings with law enforcement. “I tell them their options, then tell them to call the sheriff’s office,” he said.

“I don’t ever regret coming here,” he said. “I like Dayton.

“It’s a nice town, a comfortable town. I know people and they know me.”

Palacios was still the Dayton resident deputy when he was invited to his first VFW meeting. He was recruited in 1995 by Don Hampton, longtime leader of the Lafayette-Dayton Veterans of Foreign Wars and now the post’s namesake.

The Vietnam vet enjoyed talking with the members, especially those who had served in World War II, so he joined. It wasn’t long before he accepted a leadership position and he’s become more and more involved every year.

As judge advocate, a position halfway up the chain of command, he travels to VFW meetings all over the state reviewing programs and helping with problems. He hopes to continue this work as a state officer in coming years, maybe even as state commander some day.

One of Palacio’s missions is to attract new VFW members from among the nation’s many eligible vets. He’s always looking for veterans who meet the criteria — at least one campaign ribbon from overseas.

Under his leadership, Post 10626 has won awards for expanding its membership and for making sure 100 percent of its members paid their $25 annual dues.

Palacios is keen on growing the membership of all veterans organizations.

Not only do organizations such as VFW, American Legion, Disabled American Veterans and AMVETS serve veterans, they also have a positive influence on their own members. It’s good for veterans to get together and share their experiences, he said.

In addition, as organized groups, he said, “We have a voice in D.C.

Then, he said, “When they try to take away our benefits, we have a say. We still have to fight to keep our benefits; nothing’s guaranteed.”

Starla Pointer, who is convinced everyone has an interesting story to tell, has been writing the weekly “Stopping By” column since 1996. She’s always looking for suggestions. Contact her at 503-687-1263 or

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