Looking back: A new beginning for a historic veterans memorial monument

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Betty Gaeng next to the memorial monument today. (Photo taken March 17, 2018 by Marilyn Courtade)

Looking Forward to a new and final home. Just in time to celebrate its 70th anniversary, the South Snohomish County veterans memorial monument has found a new home. This memorial had its beginning in the spring of 1948. With its move this month from downtown Edmonds, the memorial monument is now located at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery and Columbarium, 820 15th St. S.W. in the Westgate area — its fourth home.

Each year on Memorial Day, our veterans are remembered at the well-attended ceremonies held at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery and Columbarium. 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 these years. The date and time for the ceremony is Monday, May 28, at 11 a.m.

Not only will those veterans be honored, two anniversaries will also be remembered. First, on Memorial Day in 1983 — 35 years ago — as the new owners of the renamed Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, the City of Edmonds celebrated and rededicated the cemetery. On the day of his death in 1982, Edmonds real estate and insurance man Larry Hubbard signed papers leaving the cemetery to the city. This year, as a new addition to the cemetery, the historic veterans’ memorial monument will be rededicated. The memorial was first dedicated at its original location alongside Highway 99 on Memorial Day — 70 years ago.

Looking Back at a Unique History. This monument to valor is a very plain one — nothing about it is pretentious. It’s the significance and history of this well-traveled granite memorial monument that makes it unique and relevant to the history of South Snohomish County.

By 1948, almost three years after the ending of WWII, America was finally at peace. Sadly, the fact was that even though the war had ended in 1945, our country was still grieving. For many, it still wasn’t finished. Those who had given their lives during this world-wide 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 our 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. However, to this day, the search and recovery effort for America’s missing veterans still continues.

In 1948, Seley A. (Al) Wilcox, the commander of American Legion Post 90 of Alderwood Manor, and the other members of the post and its auxiliary, decided that it was time for the local communities to have a permanent memorial to honor the WWII young men of Edmonds School District No. 15 who had made the supreme sacrifice. These young 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 Edmonds School District. For this project it was necessary to raise some money; this they did.

One of the first to reach deep into her pocket was an elderly widow, Mrs. 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 Patterson’s orphaned grandson Danny Leonard.

While I was writing the book Etched in Stone about the history of the monument and the stories of the young men, Danny Leonard’s short and poignant life story was the one that reached out to me. 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 the death of his grandfather, Danny was called for active duty in the U.S. Army. After receiving basic training with the Signal Corps in California, Pvt. Danny Leonard was assigned to overseas duty. On December 7, 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was posted in the Philippines. Caught by surprise, the American troops were unprepared for war and Corregidor and Bataan soon fell into the hands of the enemy. Over 76 years ago Danny Leonard 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 Leonard’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.

Patty Schoenholz (left) and Sheila Sievers laying flowers at the base of the monument on Memorial Day 1954, when it was located on Highway 99. (Photo courtesy Walter A. Deebach Memorial Post 1040, VFW, Lynnwood).

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 Southwest where it intersects with today’s 52nd Avenue West. The 7-foot-tall granite monument was dedicated there on Memorial Day of 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; however, 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 a 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 this 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 very personal as many of the young men who had lost their lives during WWII had been his classmates at Edmonds High School.

In 1982, Commander 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 time the monument was in storage and then it was moved to its third home in front of the Edmonds Historical Museum located in the former Carnegie Library building at 118 5th Ave. N. in downtown 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. Re-dedication ceremonies were held in 1985.  In more recent times, two more names have also been added; one is Larry Strickland, a career Army man who grew up in Edmonds and was killed in the 9/11 act of terrorism at the Pentagon when his office took a direct hit from a 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 Commander Crump that this would be the monument’s permanent 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 and Columbarium should be the final one. Here in a very prominent setting, the memorial should be a well noticed 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.

For me personally, 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, I feel honored to have been able to help with locating a new home for the memorial. In addition, like Legion Commander Bill Crump, I also attended school with some of the young men from WWII; and in addition, 70 years ago, I was familiar with the very beginning of this memorial to our valiant young men.

— By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County. She is also on the Edmonds Cemetery Board.

 

2 Replies to “Looking back: A new beginning for a historic veterans memorial monument”

  1. Betty, again, thank you for this great story. Some of the names on the memorial were friends I grew up and went to school with, and will always remember them.

    Ignored

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