Sitnews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


MEMORIAL DAY: 80 Years of Local Observance
By June Allen


May 23, 2002
Thursday - 12:45 am

VFW - Ketchikan

Photo by Dick Kauffman
When members of Ketchikan's American Legion and those of the Veterans of Foreign Wars assemble Monday for the 2002 parade from Centennial Square to Bayview Cemetery, the occasion will mark 80 years of the town's observance of Memorial Day. For that first parade in 1922, most members of the recently organized American Legion post wore their doughboy uniforms from the Great War - as World War I was called before it was renamed after conjunction with World War II.

The American Legion was founded after World War I. The Veterans of Foreign Wars was organized after World War II.

In 1922 the veterans marched from Pioneers Hall, their first meeting place, through town and out Stedman Street to the cemetery, accompanied by the town's marching brass band. Their color bearers and guards were R.R. Spaeth, Harry Lyons, Arthur Ela and George Talbot. The Legion still has an account and a photo of that historic event. There were in 1920 when the local veterans submitted their application for an American Legion Post, 117 members enrolled and an estimated 150 ex-servicemen in the district! Ketchikan's year-round population at that time hovered near an estimated 3,000 souls. There were names among the Legion's charter members recognizable to this day: Bartholomew, Elliott, Story, Talbot, (Doc) Walker, Williams, Daly, Hansen, Johnson and Nelson, Zeigler - and more.

There may have been other early-day Memorial Day observances in Ketchikan in the 20+ years before the Legion was formed that are possibly recorded in old newspapers. The

Memorial - Ketchikan

Heroes All!
Killed In Action,
Their Names Engraved For All To See!
Memorial - Bayview Cemetery
Photo by Gigi Pilcher
holiday itself began as Decoration Day immediately at the end of the Civil War, when families placed flowers on the graves of their war dead, both north and south. The name Decoration Day became traditional as years passed and the bereaved placed flowers that day on graves of any their loved ones. It wasn't until 1882 that the holiday was formally named Memorial Day and scheduled uniformly for May 30. (And in 1971 included in the all- Monday holiday schedule.)

The new Ketchikan Legion Post's first purchase in 1921, after initial organization - made partly possible by dues of $3.25 per year - were colors for the meetings hall and parade purposes. The cost was $174, a blow to the treasury. To make up any deficit, the boys organized a series of smokers and parties. Boxing and wrestling were popular sports in early Ketchikan. And many of these veterans of the trenches had, after all and in spite of Prohibition, a taste for French wines, and other beverages!

With money in the bank, the Post was free to get down to business. Among the Legion's priorities were those to promote patriotism, to preserve comradeship and lessons learned in the Great War, to promote peace and good will on earth, and to safeguard the principles of justice, freedom and democracy. But the members also pledged to help one another, aid

Memorial - Ketchikan

In Memory Of Those Who Served
Dedicated to the Men and Women
of the U.S. Military who through great
personal sacrifice and hardship have
ensured that this Nation shall
forever remain free....
Photo by Gigi Pilcher
disabled veterans, care for the widows and orphans of their comrades, and contribute to their hometowns.

The Legion took up community projects, one being support for the town's Boy Scout Troop #1, a role filled by Emery Tobin. The Legion vets also actively lobbied for a much needed, larger and more modern school for Ketchikan and were instrumental in pushing through the construction of the concrete Main School built on Grant Street hill in 1925 - which served the city's children for almost 50 years. And in 1923 when President Warren G. Harding visited Ketchikan as part of his historic visit to the Territory of Alaska, the American Legion Post 3 members served as escorts and bodyguards for the President.

Two 1924 Legion events were the erection of the first flagpole at Bayview Cemetery. Members also imported the red-berried mountain ash trees from Wrangell and planted them at Bayview. That year members also oversaw the piling driven for their planned dugout, to be located on tideland close to the tideflat ballfield where the town's competitive baseball players dared teams from Metlakatla and Prince Rupert to combat. The following year the waterfront dugout meeting hall was built.

It was in 1927 that Legion events grew in scope. Energetic Roy Jones was commander when popular Doc Walker suggested that Post members suggest objectives for membership projects. A major project suggested was the rescue of totem poles from abandoned Native villages on regional islands. Work started the following year. Each Indian family that owned the poles was contacted and permission gained to move the poles to town. Some of the

Flag Pole - Bayview

New and taller flagpole...
Photo by Gigi Pilcher
owners preferred to leave the poles where they were. But other families okayed the project on the condition that poles remain their own property, be placed at the city park and be taken care of by the city. It took several years and much heavy work but the poles were finally moved, a major Legion accomplishment.

The Legion had gradually refined and expanded the annual Memorial Day ceremonies with such additions as a firing squad salute and bugled Taps. In 1928 a half-day city holiday was observed through efforts of the Legion, with stores closing for that half-day. Two years later the Post added to patriotic occasions its own drum and bugle corps, in charge of Rev. George V. Beck.

As the years passed, the Legion's activities grew with the times. The Post Auxiliary staged the play "The Beauty Shop" and other productions on the stage of the elegant Coliseum Theater in 1931. A new and taller flagpole was erected at Bayview Cemetery the next year. By that time the Post knew it had to vacate its waterfront dugout to make room for the new federal post office to be built on the drained and filled tideflats.

So in 1937 the Legion started the project to build a new dugout at property purchased at 631 Park Avenue. A working party went to Boca de Quadra and salvaged about 8,000 feet of timber. Forms were poured for the foundation. Members turned out in numbers that

American Legion - Ketchikan

American Legion
Photo by Dick Kauffman
summer to work on construction of the building. The logs were cut and delivered. Two members lined up and organized the work sheets and schedules. One member sawed 4,000 cedar shakes for the roof! The contractor who built the federal building gave the Post the hardboard for the walls. Ketchikan Spruce Mill donated the flooring for the whole building. And the Auxiliary furnished hot meals for the workers. In a remarkably short time the building was finished.

Just this past year the 64-year-old log cabin was extended and extensively remodeled. The dugout will now last many more decades. The Post holds an Open House each Memorial Day morning before the 11 a.m. ceremonies at Centennial Square in front of the library-museum complex, an opportunity to see it for yourself.

The schedule for this year's Memorial Day observance will be in the Ketchikan Daily News and on Sitnews. If possible, attend the ceremony at Centennial Square and later at the cemetery. It is a good time to reflect on our nation's veterans, what they have done for our country and have contributed to our communities. It is a short but moving ceremony, a small town occasion of the greatest importance, well worth experiencing, especially in light of 9/11 and affairs in Asia.

Honor your veterans past and present. Their many contributions are part of what makes Ketchikan what it is to all of us, "our town."



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