Edmonds veterans memorial monument has a new beginning

By Betty Lou Gaeng | Apr 05, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel The Edmonds veterans memorial monument has found a new home at the Edmonds Cemetery.

The south Snohomish county veterans memorial monument has found a new home, just in time to celebrate its 70th anniversary on Memorial Day.

No longer at its longtime location in downtown Edmonds, it was recently reinstalled at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery and Columbarium in Westgate.

Each year on Memorial Day, veterans are remembered at the well-attended ceremonies held at cemetery. This year, tribute will be paid to the men and women who served during the post-9/11 era, with special honors to those who lost their lives during the many conflicts during those years.

The ceremony is 11 a.m. Monday, May 28.

Not only will those veterans be honored, two anniversaries will also be remembered. First, it was in 1983, 35 years ago, that the city of Edmonds, the new owners of the renamed Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, celebrated and rededicated the historic cemetery.

On the day of his death in 1982, the cemetery owner, Edmonds real estate and insurance man Larry Hubbard, signed papers gifting the cemetery to the city (see story in March 22 Edmonds Beacon).

This year, the historic veterans memorial monument will once again be rededicated. The well-traveled memorial was first dedicated at its original location alongside Highway 99 on another Memorial Day 70 years ago.

Unlike many memorials, it is not considered fancy. In fact, it is very simple and almost rustic – nothing about it is pretentious. It is history that makes it unique and relevant.

By 1948, almost three years after WWII ended, America was finally at peace. Sadly, our country was still grieving. For many, it still wasn’t finished. Those who had given their lives during this worldwide conflict had yet to come home.

Since the ending of the war, the Quartermaster Corps of the Army had been supervising the graves registration program to complete the difficult task of locating and identifying the remains of thousands of the country’s military men and women. By 1948, the government was finally bringing 171,000 of our young people back home.

It was a task that would take six years. To this day, however, the search and recovery effort for America’s missing veterans continues.

In 1948, Seley A. (Al) Wilcox, the commander of American Legion Post 90 Alderwood Manor, and other members of the post and its auxiliary, decided it was time for the local communities to have a permanent memorial to honor the young WWII men of Edmonds School District 15 who had made the supreme sacrifice.

These men, many still teenagers, had left their homes in Edmonds and the nearby communities of Alderwood Manor, Lynnwood, Meadowdale, Seattle Heights, Esperance and Cedar Valley to gallantly serve their country.

The American Legion post decided on a 7-foot tall granite monument listing the names of each young man who had died not only during WWII, but also those from WWI. Most had attended school in the district. For this project, it was necessary to raise some money, and they did.

One of the first to reach deep into her pocket was an elderly widow, Odessa (Oscar) Patterson. During the Great Depression, Mr. and Mrs. Patterson lived in Alderwood Manor, where they raised a large family. Like so many during those hard times, they had acquired little in worldly goods. One of the young men to be honored by this memorial was the Pattersons’ orphaned grandson, Danny Leonard.

While writing the book “Etched in Stone,” which detailed the history of the monument and the stories of the young men, the one that reached out to me was Leonard’s short and poignant life story. Before he was 7 years old, both his parents had died.

Not knowing of any surviving relatives, officials placed Danny in an orphanage. He was 8 years old when his maternal grandparents discovered that they had a little grandson living in a large orphan home in Seattle. He went to live with his grandparents at their modest home in east Alderwood Manor.

Danny attended Alderwood Manor Grade School and Edmonds High School. In order to help with the family’s meager finances while still a teenager in high school, he joined the National Guard. In mid-1941, a month after his grandfather died, Danny was called for active duty in the U.S. Army. After receiving basic training with the Signal Corps in California, Pvt. Leonard was assigned to overseas duty.

On Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was posted in the Philippines. Caught by surprise, the American troops were unprepared for battle and Corregidor and Bataan soon fell into the hands of the enemy.

Over 76 years ago, Danny was taken prisoner and barely survived the resulting infamous Bataan Death March. He was incarcerated at O’Donnell, one of the enemy’s worst internment camps, and a short time later he died as a result of the forced labor and unsanitary conditions at the camp.

The name of 21-year-old Danny Leonard is one of those carved into the granite face of the monument. His grave is located nearby.

Danny’s grieving grandmother was not the only one to willingly contribute to the project; many others came forth, and the monument was paid for with only public funds. When completed, the memorial included 45 names – five from WWI and 40 from WWII. Sometime later one more name, that of a WWII veteran, was added.

Inscribed above the list of names are the words, “Dedicated to those of School District 15 who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country 1917-1918 and 1941-1945.”

The memorial monument’s first home was on land the American Legion Post owned on the east side of Highway 99 at approximately 181st Street SW, where it intersects with today’s 52nd Avenue West. The granite monument was dedicated there on Memorial Day 1948 in an impressive ceremony, with 400 in attendance.

For the next few years, Memorial Day ceremonies continued to be held next to the memorial monument. Often, American Legion Post 90 was joined by local Veterans of Foreign War Post 1040 and Edmonds Frank Freese Post 66 of the American Legion. However, the location next to a major highway was found to be unsuitable, and each year fewer people attended the ceremonies.

By 1954, Legion commander Al Wilcox had died, the land owned by the post was sold and the memorial monument was removed to the parking lot at Lynnwood Junior High School near the crossroads of Lynnwood.

Memorial Day ceremonies were held on the school property. But this location proved to be an unpopular spot and attendance was poor.

In 1981, when Lynnwood Junior High School closed its doors, the memorial monument became derelict and was left to lean against an unused building on the deserted school grounds. The memorial monument seemed to be forgotten, its history and meaning lost to time. Abandoned, the monument soon became a target for vandalism.

The following year, when he learned what was happening to the memorial, retired WWII Air Corps ace pilot Lt. Col. John W. (Bill) Crump, the newly installed commander of Edmonds’ American Legion Post 66, decided that something needed to be done to save the memorial monument from further damage. For him, this was personal, as many of the young men who had lost their lives during WWII had been his classmates at Edmonds High School.

In 1982, Cmdr. Crump took the lead in a project to save the memorial by having it moved to what he considered a more fitting spot. For a short while, the monument was in storage and then moved to its third home in front of the Edmonds Historical Museum. located in the former Carnegie Library building at 118 Fifth Ave. N in Edmonds.

For the move and restoration of the memorial monument, the Legion post asked the public for donations and again people were generous. In order to update information on the monument, an extension was added to the base, listing the names of the local young men who had lost their lives in Korea and Vietnam – seven names for the Korean conflict and 24 names for Vietnam were added.

Rededication ceremonies were held in 1985. In more recent times, two more names have also been added. One was Larry Strickland, a career Army man who grew up in Edmonds and was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attack at the Pentagon when his office took a direct hit from a hijacked plane.

Another name is that of Steven Rintamaki, a young Marine from Lynnwood who lost his life in Iraq in 2004. Seventy-nine names are now inscribed on the memorial.

On February 21, 2005, local veterans’ organizations gathered for yet another dedication ceremony.

The hope of Cmdr.Crump that this would be the monument’s final home was not to be. As people hurried by, it seemed to be little noticed. Once again, the memorial’s significance to the community appeared lost.

As a result, many years following its last move, a decision was made to move this well-traveled memorial monument to a fourth home. Its new home at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery should be the permanent one. Here, in a very prominent setting, the memorial will become a viable part of our local history.

It seems only fitting that several of the young men whose names are etched into the stone face of the memorial monument are buried nearby. Appropriately, also nearby is the grave of WWI veteran Seley Al Wilcox, the man whose 1948 vision led to the existence of the memorial.

Having written a book about the history of the monument and the young men whose names are etched in the stone, and as a member of the board for the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, this project to find a new and permanent home for the memorial monument has been very personal, and I am honored to have been able to help.

Just like Legion Cmdr. Bill Crump, I also attended school with some of the young men from WWII. In addition, 70 years ago, I was familiar with the very beginning of this memorial to our valiant young men.

I have to admit that on the morning of March 15, when I saw the crew set the monument into its base at the cemetery, I shed a few tears ¬ just as I had done years before when I first told the story.

Local historian Betty Lou Gaeng is a member of the Edmonds Cemetery board. She wrote “Etched in Stone,” a history of Edmonds’ memorial to those killed in war.

 

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