For most Americans – and most islanders for that matter – the Memorial Day holiday is just another day off from work, and a chance to spend time camping, doing yard work, or hanging out with friends and family. But for a dedicated group of military veterans and members of the American Legion Colin Hyde Post 172 it’s a yearly opportunity to honor fallen comrades, and those who served in past wars – from World War I to Afghanistan.
This Memorial Day is a particularly special one for the Bainbridge Island Post, which is celebrating both its 80th anniversary and the re-dedication of the Veterans Memorial Monument that is now back at its original spot adjacent to Spartan Stadium on the campus of Bainbridge High School. Festivities honoring the 24 Bainbridge High graduates who gave their lives for their country in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the War in Vietnam will get underway at around 10 a.m. on Monday (May 30th) near the refurbished Memorial.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a good turn out,” says Mick Hersey, one of several legion volunteers who helped to preserve the Monument. The public is invited to attend the ceremony, along with a birthday celebration later in the day at the Colin Hyde Post, at 7880 NE Bucklin Hill Rd, adjacent to the fire station. Earlier this week, the City Council acknowledged the two milestones by reading a Proclamation honoring both American Legion’s longevity on the island and the preservation of the statuary.
The establishment of the local American Legion Post goes back to the early days of World War II, and the Post is named after a Bainbridge Island veteran who died in WWI. “In 1949, the family of Colin Hyde donated the land on which the Post now stands,” recalls Bill Beck, a long-time American Legion member and volunteer. “The building itself is part of what was once a barracks – building #62 – in Fort Ward at the South end of the Island. The Post purchased the surplus building sections for $960, which also included the cost of transportation of said materials over to the Post building site which had just recently been cleared. The first regular Post meeting was held in the newly assembled Hall on February 24, 1950.”
Beck says that during World War II some 488 Bainbridge residents served in the armed services in some capacity or another. While he doesn’t have exact statistics about the other conflicts or how many islanders’ might have participated, he does have some 20-odd scrapbooks chock full of Post history that he’d be willing to share with anyone who might be interested.
Back in the day, the Post began with about 35 members and today it is 80 strong – all of whom were either awarded a medal for their service or served in a military branch during a period when the United States was involved in a war. Today, the Post does a slew of community activities, including honoring, supporting, and celebrating national holidays – you’ve probably seen their familiar American flags hung up along Winslow Way – holding blood drives, shipping care packages to current military members overseas, sponsoring classes for scouts, and assisting elderly and sick veterans at area nursing homes and so on.
On a warm spring morning several weeks back, Hersey, Alan Haugan, and Herb Martin were putting the finishing touches on the refurbished Veterans Monument. Hersey, who served 23 years in the Navy before retiring in 1997 as a senior chief cook, is a hobbyist restorer and preservationist of monuments, tombstones, and the like. “I’ve been doing it for about 10 years,” he notes. “I work with the Daughters of the American Revolution…(and) I also teach the proper way to clean (tombstones) and restore them.”
The Veterans Monument has been moved several times over the years as the Bainbridge High School campus has undergone any number of building and reconstruction projects, including a new gym, the new 100 Building, and still nearing completion, the Learning Comprehensive Center complex. “It’s more a memorial than ever before,” Hersey says. “You can (now) walk through it and read all it sides.” Bronze art work, known as “The Missing Man,” sits at the base of the right side pillar and was completed in 2015 by Seattle artist Daryl Smith. It includes a U.S. Army helmet atop of a stack of military fatigues and other equipment worn by soldiers of the day.
The monument, which sits on a newly refurbished concrete stand, includes two pillars. The larger one on the left, facing the track and football field, says “They Fought For Us, For Us They Fell.” The right pillar includes the inscription, “Here With One Accord We Do them Honor.” The names of the fallen soldiers and former Bainbridge High School graduates are engraved on separate plaques located on each pillar.
Hersey and his buddies re-lettered the statues, added black enamel paint, and restored the bronze plaques to look like new. In addition, a new flagpole was installed at the site along with some plantings to spruce it up. The legion, with help from an art fund from the high school, helped pay for the project. On Monday, with the Pacific Northwest Navy Band will provide musical inspiration, as Beck and others provide some more background about the Memorial, along with holding traditional services. A local Boy Scout Troop will raise the flag at the appropriate time.
After the ceremony, Beck encourages interested residents to visit the Colin Hyde Post for birthday cake, beverages and a tour of the facility. For more information on the local American Legion Post, visit http://www.bainbridgeislandpost172.org/
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