‘Words alone cannot repay the debt we owe’: Edmonds honors the fallen

Local scouts assist the color guard during the flag raising to start the ceremony.
Army veteran Chris Edwards salutes as the flag is raised.

An estimated 300 attendees gathered Monday morning at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery to pause, remember and honor the members of the U.S. armed forces who fell while defending their nation and its principles of freedom and democracy.

After welcoming all present, emcee Richard Marin, Capt. USN (Ret) began the ceremony with a presentation of the colors conducted by members of Scout Troops 300 and 46254, VFW Post 8870, American Legion Post 66, and accompanied by Ian Alvarez on drums and Cathy Draper on flute.

Cathy Draper performs on the flute during the observance.
David Little leads the crowd in singing the national anthem.

This was followed by vocalist David Little leading the group in the national anthem, the invocation by North Sound Church Pastor and USN Captain (Ret.) Barry Crane, and a medley of armed forces songs performed by the Edmonds-Woodway High School Brass Quintet.

Carl Kurfess of VFW Post 8870 conducted the white table ceremony, a special recognition for POW/MIAs. Comprising a small table with a white cloth, a single place setting, and several symbolic accoutrements, the ceremony honors “those of our brothers in arms who are not in our midst today.”

“Remember them and honor them,” Kurfess instructed, “till the day they come home.”

Edmonds City Councilmember Will Chen was accompanied by son Gavin and wife Lisa.

Kurfess was followed by Edmonds Mayor Mike Rosen.

“I’m here today to honor those I don’t know,” Rosen began.  “Words alone cannot repay the debt we owe to those who made the cause of America their supreme choice. Rather we must strive to be the people and the country for whom they made this supreme sacrifice.

“I don’t believe for a second that I would be alive today if it weren’t for the people who fought in that war [WWII],” he continued. “Six million Jews were killed – fortunately the parents of my parents were not.  But I grew up around people with missing limbs and numbers tattooed on their arms.”

Mayor Mike Rosen offers remarks.

He went on to note the casualties of WWII: more than 400,000 American military, 60-80 million military members worldwide, and 45 million civilians.

“The streets of heaven are far too crowded with angels,” he concluded.

Keynote speaker was KING-TV news anchor Greg Copeland, who told the story of his grandfather Robert Copeland’s heroism in the Pacific during WWII.

Next was keynote speaker and KING-TV news anchor Greg Copeland, who told the story of his grandfather Robert Copeland’s WWII heroism while fighting the Japanese in the Philippines.

On Oct. 25, 1944, Copeland was captain the Samuel B. Roberts, a small 306-foot destroyer escort, which — along with a minimal force of six Jeep carriers, three destroyers and three other destroyer escorts — found itself defending an invading task force of Marines attempting to take the Japanese island of Leyte.  That day, they came under attack by an overwhelming flotilla of 23 cruisers and battleships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, including the battleship Yamato, the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship ever constructed. According to Copeland, “The Yamato alone outweighed all the American ships in that battle – it was a total David and Goliath situation.”

The U.S. Navy destroyer escort USS Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413), under the command of Capt. Robert Copeland, underway in October 1944 — shortly before she was lost in the Battle off Samar on Oct. 25, 1944. (Photo courtesy U.S. Navy)
The Japanese battleship Yamato in 1941, at the time the heaviest and most powerfully armed battleship ever constructed. (Photo courtesy of the Yamato Museum)

Copeland told of how, as the enemy fleet closed in, the crew of his grandfather’s ship was informed over the loudspeaker that they were “about to enter a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival is not expected — but we will do what damage we can.”

The battle lasted two hours, during which the Samuel B. Roberts was able to sail close enough to get under the Japanese guns and launch torpedoes, hitting at least one cruiser, before being hit and sunk.  In a stroke of luck, the enemy ships left the battle, the ferocity of the Americans making them think that they faced a force much larger than it actually was.

“Eighty-nine of my grandfather’s men were lost in the battle,” Copeland said. “Those who weren’t killed during the action floated for 50 hours in shark-infested waters waiting to be rescued. In all, more than 1,100 Americans died in what has become known as the Battle off Samar. But in the end they did the unthinkable – they turned back the Imperial Japanese Navy.”

Captain (and later Admiral) Robert Copeland, grandfather of keynote speaker Greg Copeland, commanded the Samuel B. Roberts during the Battle off Samar.

“This was the defining moment of my grandfather’s life,” Copeland continued. “In his final report written from a hospital bed in Oakland, California he described in detail how his men worked with calmness, honor and efficiency despite knowing that their cause was all but hopeless.”

Robert Copeland remained in the Navy, retiring in 1971 as a rear admiral. He passed away a few years later.

Copeland’s story was followed by a ceremony in which veteran Richard Bologna sounded the ship’s bell in honor of those who lost their lives on the Samual B. Roberts during the Battle off Samar.

Veteran Richard Bologna strikes the ship’s bell in remembrance of those lost in the Battle off Samar during World War II.
An estimated 300 people attended Monday’s ceremony.
The Edmonds-Woodway High School Brass Quintet of Forrest Aubrey, Woods Jarol, Jerome Smith, Nicky Weber and Josh Henderson.
Piper Mike Barber ended the ceremonies with “Amazing Grace.”

The ceremony ended with attendees joining vocalist David Little in America the Beautiful, a benediction by Barry Crane, taps by Chris Edwards and Mike Barber on the bagpipes playing Amazing Grace.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

  1. Job exceedingly well done, Larry! I don’t know how you pulled this very complete story together so quickly.

  2. Truly a moving ceremony of remembrance to our fallen heroes. All Americans will remember those military service members who gave their lives for our country !

  3. As always, My Edmonds News does another excellent job covering veterans events in Snohomish County. Thanks to Teresa Wippel and her staff for their dedication to keeping our community informed about important events on a daily basis. Her support is invaluable!

  4. Congratulations on a job well done! Thanks to the Edmonds Cemetery Committee for helping honor veterans and all those who are buried at the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery.
    Jerry Janacek

  5. Thank you, Edmonds Cemetary Board, for honoring me with leading our National Anthem. As I observed our audience, many others joined in with the song. Let’s keep Edmonds, and our World at large, singing!

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