Todos Los Santos 2016

September 22nd, 2016

Evergreen Washelli will be hosting its annual Todos Los Santos celebration on October 30th, 2016. Please click the image for more information.

Todos Los Santos (2)


150th Anniversary of the GAR

September 22nd, 2016

hiram monumentThe old soldier--Hiram Randall GaleThe Puget Sound Civil War Roundtable will be re-dedicating the memorial of Hiram Gale, Washington State’s last Civil War Veteran, and Celebrating 150 years of the Grand Army of the Republic on October 20th at 1:00 pm.
Mr. Gale was a teenager during the War Between the States, and lived to see his country through two World Wars as well. He was a Vermont native who spent his final days at American Lake. He rests in our Washelli Cemetery.
The ceremony begins at 1:00 PM and is followed by a reception. If you are planning to attend, please RSVP:

Who Was Hiram R. Gale?

Hiram Randall Gale (1846-1951) was Washington’s last resident Civil War veteran.  He hadn’t planned on being a celebrity, but the role suited him.

Gale was born 8 November 1846 in Waterbury, Vermont, the son of Hiram Gale and Sallie Bryant.  His father died when he was eleven, but he still completed two years of high school while helping his mother manage the family farm.

His family moved to Galesville, Wisconsin in the 1860s.  The Civil War caught up with him shortly after his eighteenth birthday; on 5 January 1865 he enlisted as a private in Company K of the 46th Wisconsin Infantry, mustering in with the unit on 2 March 1865 at Camp Randall (Madison).  His service in the Army of the Cumberland was undistinguished, and was spent in Louisville, Kentucky, and Athens and Huntsville, Alabama, guarding the line of the Nashville and Decatur Railroad.  The unit mustered out on 27 September 1865, having taken light casualties from disease and entering no combat.  His older brother George also served in the Civil War, in the First Wisconsin Light Artillery.

Hiram returned to Galesville, and rejoined business as a grocer.  He married Laura Ann Perkins, his first of three wives, on 10 August 1870.  With her, he had four children, three boys and a girl.  Between 1874 and 1876 the family moved to Willmar, Minnesota, and he changed careers to newspaper editor.  Laura died there, on 25 August 1879, and his mother (1886) and one of the four children (1888) followed not long after.

Perhaps to escape the memories, or perhaps because of the allure of the western territories made accessible by rail, Hiram was in Tacoma by the end of 1888.  In 1892 he filed for veteran’s pension based on his service; he received an increase in 1908 based on his age.  About the same time he joined the Grand Army of the Republic.  With the GAR, he became a rising star.  His first major office was commander of Navy Yard Post #110 in Charleston, near his home in Allyn and his job as a newspaper editor in Bremerton.  His son Edgar was a realtor in Seattle, and he moved there in 1914; at the same time he became department commander of the GAR for Washington and Alaska, with headquarters in Seattle.  For the next thirty years he was active in the organization.

He married his second wife, Mrs Ida Rose Burdick Brown, twice:  once in Minnesota, and again in Bellingham in 1911.  She died in 1923 at the Washington Veterans Home at Retsil.  His third wife, Mrs Catherine McCumber McCorkle, also predeceased him (22 February 1932).  Three times a widower was enough; until the last year of his life, Hiram lived with his son Edgar, moving with him at one point to Clallam County, but finally settling on the counterbalance of Queen Anne Hill.

Hiram attended national encampments for the GAR, and the 75th anniversary encampment at Gettsyburg, and as the ranks thinned he found himself making speeches and giving newspaper interviews.  By 1945 the process of attrition left him in charge of the GAR for the entire nation.  As Commander-in-Chief, he presided over the last major national encampment of the organization, was the last Civil War veteran to march in the annual encampment parade, and oversaw the bylaws revisions that made the last set of offices perpetual.  The GAR met only three more times after his term.

His fame grew; his every hospitalization for minor illness was watched closely.  With the deaths of all the other Civil War Washingtonians, blue and gray alike, he became the last veteran in October 1943.  For seven and a half years he enjoyed the attention, the parades, and the accolades that went with his inheritance.  He was one of 68 surviving veterans featured in Life Magazine in May 1949.  He joined the Elks, the United States War Veterans, and the American Legion as an honorary member.

Seven months before his death, Hiram was admitted to the Veterans Administration domicile at the new hospital in American Lake.  There, on 15 March 1951, he finally answered the last bugle call.  He was buried at Evergreen-Washelli on 26 May 1951, in time for Memorial Day, at a spot he had picked out with his son.  His grave, Lot 1121 Grave 2, stands at the head of the white markers of the nearby Veterans Memorial Section.  The symbolism is inescapable:  the old commander, walking alone, is leading his troops over the hill, into the rising sun.

In 1952, and again in 1953, Senator Warren G Magnuson introduced a bill to name the Seattle VA Hospital in memory of Hiram Gale.  While the bill passed the Senate, it never came out of House committee.

The marker we are rededicating today was installed by the Women’s Relief Corps, the Ladies of the GAR, the Daughters of Union Veterans, and the Auxiliary to the Sons of Union Veterans, in October 1953.  It was dedicated on Veterans Day that year.

The medallion on the face of the marker was originally installed at the Field Artillery Armory–we know it now as the Center House–on 30 May 1948.  It was Hiram’s 100th birthday party, and he jokingly thanked the attendees for coming to his funeral.  At his actual death, it was re-designed into his permanent memorial.

The artist, James A Wehn, cast the bronze from life in 1946.  The original mold and castings are in the collection of the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma.


One Year… and Counting

August 31st, 2016




“Shouldn’t I feel better by now?”





After losing someone we love, it is not uncommon to expect some change in our emotions as time passes.

Somehow we expect one year to be a magic point after which we can “move on” from the death of a loved one. But active grieving can continue, much to the surprise of many. The ebb and flow of grief can be frustrating: one day it seems to be on the wane, allowing us to go about our daily lives as we would like; the next day it’s back with a vengeance, overwhelming us and making even basic tasks difficult. It has to stop sometime. Doesn’t it?

There are many circumstances which can impede the healing process. Did the death occur at home?  I hate this house! We have to move away from here. Was it an accident? I should have been watching!  Was it a criminal act? Is she up for parole again?  Is it something the public knows about?  Must they keep talking about it on the news?  Even a death due to illness or the simple winding down at the end of a long life can leave us with doubts, guilt, self-recrimination: Did I tell her I loved her? Why didn’t I visit him more often? What was she trying to tell me that last afternoon?

One of the most famous measures for grieving is the Five Stages of Grief model discussed by Swiss-born psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her ground-breaking work On Death and Dying. Published in 1969, it discusses her experiences with hospice patients. In it she outlined what she termed the Five Stages of Grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.  They were based upon her talks with her patients and their feelings while facing their own terminal illnesses and their own deaths. While they have been relied upon heavily for more than forty years, there is no empirical research to support the “Five Stages” and  Kubler-Ross herself did not consider them separate, distinct events in the grieving process—even for the dying patients to whom the stages actually apply.

Dr. Elizabeth Harper Neeld believes in the concept of chronos time versus kairos time, and the futility of trying to force our hearts to conform to a calendar.  Grief counselor Marty Tousley says grief is a lifelong process and that asking when grieving ends is a lot like asking “How high is up?” Researcher George Bonanno came to the conclusion that psychological resilience was at the core of human grief and trauma reactions, and that grief follows its own individual course.

So what do we do with our grief? Sit home and knit?

One could, actually. There are charities that need hand-knitted caps for newborns, cancer patients and the homeless. In fact, many worthwhile organizations have been founded in the aftermath of tragedy: MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving), POMC (Parents of Murdered Children), The Susan G. Komen Foundation and Gilda’s Club were all started as a way to channel energy, honor a loved one and foster a change in the world. But the need for self-care is also critical when we’re grieving, just as when we are recovering from a serious injury or illness. We can’t live on peanut butter and crackers and spend all of our hours watching re-runs of “Fantasy Island” on Hulu. It’s important to shower, dress, leave the house. Avoid alcohol and non-prescribed pharmaceuticals. Eat vegetables and a piece of fresh fruit once in a while. Spend time among friends. When the holidays roll around, celebrate them. Or don’t. And remember that with your whole life ahead of you, you only have to get through one day: this one.

If we let it, grief can and will change as time passes. The person we love so much will stay in our heart(s), moving to a different place within it, perhaps, but always there. Former First Lady Barbara Bush’s tiny daughter Robin died in 1953. Her mother thinks of her as “an angel… not a sadness or a sorrow.”  Vice President Joseph Biden, whose first wife and baby girl were killed in a car accident in 1972, referred to his loss in a 2012 address to military families at a TAPS seminar. (His son Beau succumbed to cancer last year.) He spoke of healing: “It will happen…I’m telling you it will come.” And he, of all people, would know.~~Mary Gibbons


Proper Recognition for a Hero

August 6th, 2016

In January of this year, Evergreen-Washelli learned that a seventh Congressional Medal of Honor recipient is resting with us. Emil Fredreksen was a peacetime recipient of the Medal; Chief Water Tender on the USS Bennington, he helped save the lives of his shipmates after a boiler explosion on the  ship  in 1905. Fredreksen remained in the US Navy, retiring from the Reserves and living out his life in Seattle. In 1950 he died in Seattle and was buried without fanfare in Washelli Cemetery.

This past March, a ceremony was held to honor Emil Fredreksen and a military marker was installed at his grave; on July 14 a full ledger was placed on the grave, telling the story of the Danish emigre’s heroism.

We are honored to have Emil Fredreksen in our care, and it has been our privilege to give him the recognition he deserves. Please feel free to stop by and pay your respects: Washelli Cemetery, Section R, Lot 0609, Grave 12-A.~~ Mary Gibbons


A Few Last Words

July 14th, 2016



Obituaries and eulogies are among the last formal opportunities we have to say a public goodbye to someone. While eulogies have long been considered the avenue for friends and family to share anecdotes, jokes and high praise for the deceased, we now use obituaries for the same purpose.

In times past, most newspapers had a department that handled obituaries. To commemorate the passing of the average citizen, a simple paragraph would usually suffice:

“Mr. Walter Q. Abernathy, 1621 Boxwood Avenue, Poughkeepsie, died at his home on March 18, after suffering a stroke the previous Tuesday. Mr. Abernathy, a native of Allentown, Pennsylvania, served with the Army Expeditionary Forces in France and received the Silver Star. He is survived by his wife, Marcella, of the home; two daughters and four sons. A memorial service will be held on Friday at 2PM at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Main Street.”

People of greater social and political standing would get more elaborate biographies in print; it became common to keep such information on file, so it would be ready at a moment’s notice. The same was true with the advent of radio and television. Of course, these files have to be updated periodically, to keep the information current.  One episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show had Mary and Rhoda getting a little too creative with the process (“Better Late… That’s a Pun… Than Never”) with disastrous, if hilarious, results.

In recent years, however, newspapers no longer keep a staffer for that purpose.  Some people write their own: Seattle writer Jane Catherine Lotter, Salt Lake City resident Val Patterson, and Beth O’Rourke of Paxton, Massachusetts all had obituaries that were self-written and went viral. For the most part, however, the task of writing obituaries has fallen to the family of the deceased and the funeral director. This has resulted in a more personal and intimate feel to most obituaries and gives the family the chance to share their picture of the deceased with the world.

One of the most famous obituaries ever written was that of Mary White.

Mary Katherine White collided with a tree branch while riding her horse one May afternoon; she died of a cerebral hemorrhage. Her father, William Allen White, wrote an obituary for his teenaged daughter which has been re-published numerous times and was even adapted for a television movie. It is loving, warm, surprisingly unsentimental and remarkably restrained. Written in 1921, it is a timeless piece of writing that gives us a marvelous picture of a real girl, and has made her immortal in the way that few things could.~~Mary Gibbons



Father’s Day Without You

June 15th, 2016

Father’s Day Without You

After the loss of a loved one there will be some times when grief is felt more sharply than others. Holidays aimed at familial relationships, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, can exacerbate one’s grief. Those two holidays can also be trying for people who have lost children.In her blog, a mother in the United Kingdom shares her thoughts on facing Mother’s Day and Father’s Day after her 12 year old daughter’s death from an aneurysm. In his blog posting, ”I am still a father: the Father’s Day Birdhouse”, Glen Lord reminisces about the last gift he and his son made together, and how despite his loss, he is still Noah’s daddy.

Most of us will outlive the significant adults in our lives. This leaves many years of holidays, special occasions and family gatherings with an empty place at the table. But it also gives new opportunity for creativity in our approach to these days. Many blogs have suggestions, but only you will know how best to honor the day. Planting a rosebush or tree, donating to a favorite school, or sharing memories with a family friend may all be excellent ways to celebrate someone we love and miss. Binge-watching dad’s favorite movies or visiting mom’s favorite places may have to wait until wounds are less raw, but at the right time can bring tremendous comfort to us. Some find it better to simply bypass the day rather than to emphasize it. There is no wrong way to go; it may take several attempts at recognizing–or not–those once-special days before you find what works best for you.

We hope you find your own special way to celebrate the precious bond between fathers and children. It is, in its own way, eternal. For fathers everywhere, those still with us and those who live only in our memories, and for those fathers who mourn, Happy Father’s Day.~~  Mary Gibbons


90th Annual Memorial Day Celebration

May 9th, 2016

On Monday May 30th, 2016, Evergreen Washelli will host our Annual Memorial Day Commemorative Service. Please join us as we honor America’s fallen and salute the flags on our “Avenue of Colors”.

In the morning, at 7:00 AM, there will be a Flag Placement at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Each of the 5,000 white marble upright markers in the Veterans Section will receive a flag placed by hundreds of volunteers that will come out for this event. Veterans, scout groups, churches, local organizations and families will place the flags.

The 1:30 p.m. concert will feature marches, patriotic selections and other music provided by the Seattle Pacific University Symphonic Wind Ensemble and Drum Corps. The Service of Remembrance begins at 2:00 p.m.

Following the Memorial Day Commemorative Service, we invite you to attend a guided tour of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery and learn about the remarkable lives of the Medal of Honor recipients in our care.

Our guide this year will be David Bloch, son of the Medal of Honor recipient Orville Emil Bloch. We are extremely honored and excited to have him as our tour guide.

David will guide us through the history of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery, as well as teach us about the stories of Private William C. Horton, PFC Lewis Albanese, PFC William Kenzo Nakamura, 2nd LT Robert Ronald Leisy, Coxswain Harry Delmar Fadden, CWT Emil Fredreksen, and of course Colonel Orville Emil Bloch.

Kindly meet us at the Doughboy Statue in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at 3:15 pm. We ask for a $5.00 suggested donation for attendance, which will go to the purchase of flags for the Avenue of Flags. For more information, and to reserve a spot, please call us at (206)362-5200 or email




Music and Roses

May 5th, 2016

On Sunday, May 15, members of the University of Washington ROTC will place more than 1,000 roses throughout the Veterans Section of Washelli Cemetery.  The roses are a gift from the Seattle Symphony and Snowman Foundation, donated to Evergreen-Washelli each year after their Ten Grands Concert. The concert is an annual fundraiser for music education in Oregon and Washington; the stage is festooned with roses for the occasion. The following morning, men and women of the University of Washington Army, Navy, and Air Force ROTC take the time and care to place them throughout the Veterans Cemetery on each marker. A ceremony begins at 9:00AM, followed by the rose placement.

Stephen Dewalt, a co-founder and producer of the Seattle Ten Grands, shares his story of it’s history below :

Roses for Veterans, The Seattle Ten Grands Story

Ten Grands is a piano variety show created by Michael Allen Harrison from Portland Oregon.   My wife, Kathy Fahlman Dewalt, Executive Producer of the Seattle Ten Grands, and myself in partnership with Seattle Symphony Orchestra, produce the show each year at Benaroya Hall, Seattle Wa.  It features 10 Grand pianos on one stage with professional artists performing as individuals and in group numbers.  The show is a fundraiser for musical education in our state.  As part of the show the stage is adorned with approximately 1500 long stem roses.  These roses are featured in vibrant bouquets and arrangements among and around the pianos.  Year after year, people would ask us, what do you do with the roses after the show?  Our answer has become a simple one…they are to adorn the graves of veterans.

 On April 2, 2011 the first laying of roses on the veteran’s graves took place.  This is the story of how it all began.  A dear friend and patron of the Seattle Ten Grands, Cheri Brennan, founder of Alliance Communications, connected with Brenda Spicer at Evergreen Washelli.   Cheri, whose father had served in the Navy in World War II, thought it would be a great symbolic remembrance and gesture to place the roses on veteran’s graves.  The date was set for the Sunday morning after the Saturday evening show and Army ROTC cadets were invited to place the roses.  Cheri asked me to speak to the Cadets because I am a Navy veteran…having received my commission from the University of Illinois NROTC unit in 1970.  While I had not made the Navy a career, I had made two deployments to Vietnam and the South China Sea, serving on a WWII vintage destroyer, the USS Chevalier DD 805.  What followed next was unexpected for me and it brings us to the second value proposition of the placement ceremony.

When speaking to the cadets prior to the placement of the roses, I was filled with the emotion of my own experience as a midshipman at Illinois.  At that time, my first drill team commander, Alan DeCrane, had graduated and served with distinction and ultimately gave his life in February of 1968 half way around the world in a place called Vietnam.  Our unit was called and many of us responded to be part of an honor guard for Captain DeCrane…a man so proud to serve his country as an officer in the USMC.  We went and in a small cemetery, on a small ridge, in a little town, on the prairie of Illinois we laid Al to rest.  My memory of that service is forever burned in my mind…I can feel it, I can see it, and I will never forget it.  What I understood with our first ceremony was that it was right and just that the roses be placed in remembrance and that it served as an opportunity for local midshipmen and cadets to participate in an honor guard.  Brenda asked me at the time, will you be back next year.  I simply said that the roses had found a home and that as long we produced the show we would “play forward” the roses in symbolic memory of all veterans.  With Skip Drep’s help, the officer candidates are instructed on the procedure for proper placement and Kathy and I place a bouquet on the Dough Boy statue at Evergreen Washelli.  Each year since that first honor guard ceremony, we have placed the roses with the help of the University of Washington and Seattle University ROTC candidates from all three services.

 Come join us May 15th at 9 am.  Come to the show the night before and see the flowers in their glory…then come to see them in their prime…adorning the graves of brave men and women that have given their lives in service.  More than the training opportunity for local cadets and midshipmen…it is an act of reverence that needs to continually be engaged…be remembered…be experienced…and be perpetuated.  As long as we produce the show, there will be this opportunity.  So what exactly do we do with the roses?…we give them life, we play them forward, we give them purpose, we give them a sacred right for our souls as American citizens.

Stephen R. Dewalt


Tickets for the concert can be purchased through the Seattle Symphony.


Arbor Day

April 1st, 2016

Arbor Day
by Mary Gibbons

As we move into April and toward Arbor Day, we are once again delighted to embrace the beauty of the grounds here at Evergreen-Washelli.  In addition to being a peaceful place of interment, we are also the home of many varieties of beautiful trees: bountiful flowering magnolias, the stately poplars that line Aurora Avenue North, Japanese maples,  firs that sway in the wind.  We are even the home of a “Heritage Tree”, a scion of the George Washington Elm that grew in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  This makes our grounds pleasant  for walking, quiet contemplation, and reconnecting with the loved ones from one’s past who rest here.

Many other cemeteries throughout the country are also arboretums, nationally recognized for their exquisite and diverse varieties of flora. Most of them were founded in the mid-nineteenth century, when the move was made from churchyard burial to more scenic settings farther from town. Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts is considered the first rural cemetery, combining a park-like atmosphere with the necessary function of a cemetery. (Founded in 1831, its example was followed in other cities with other cemeteries, among them Graceland in Chicago, Woodland Cemetery  in Dayton, and Bellefontaine in St. Louis.)  By placing cemeteries away from the town center, it became a day’s excursion to ride out, pay respects to Aunt Mabel and leave flowers on the graves of Grandpa and Grandma. Families took the opportunity to enjoy the grounds, picnic, and take in the scenery. This also gave the incentive to plan grand and beautiful cemeteries, and begin what we know today as “endowment care.”

So the next time you visit us at Evergreen-Washelli, we hope you will take the time to look around. (If your dog is on a leash, he is welcome to look around too.) See how many trees you can identify. Listen to the wind roaring through the branches, and watch the petals of the cherry blossoms as they dance to the ground. Say hello to the geese. And bask in the restful spirit of this place.

*Arbor Day is April 29, 2016.*

For more on the George Washington Elm, please see a previous blog posting. Arthur Lee Jacobson has also written about significant trees in Seattle. His books can be found at his website.


Finding Emil

March 26th, 2016

Finding Emil

By: Skip Dreps

I have served on the Veterans Memorial Cemetery Advisory Board for more than 25 years and we proudly recognize the six Medal of Honor recipients buried here.

A short time ago, Evergreen Washelli Cemetery received a call from Ohio researcher Ray Johnston, who volunteers for the Medal of Honor Historical Society. He thought he might have discovered the burial place of a 1906 Medal of Honor recipient, who was buried in Evergreen Washelli Cemetery in 1950. The possibility that there might be another was staggering, and thrilling!

His name was Emil Fredreksen. He died in 1950 in Seattle, at the Marine Hospital.  With no known next of kin, he was buried without a headstone. In January, when we went to investigate, grounds keeping personnel had to dig down about four inches to uncover the temporary marker used to lay out his plot. There it read: E. Fredreksen, 1867-1950.  The only clues that he had served were a cryptic notation on his interment order and a faded receipt found in archives that he was eligible for a bonus in pension. He was buried quietly, without ceremony, and rested forgotten until now.

Research began to uncover records to tell a story of this man and his life. We were soon able to confirm it was the same Emil Fredreksen, United States Navy Watertender, who was one of the heroes of the USS Bennington (Gunboat #4) disaster that occurred in San Diego in 1905.

Eleven survivors were awarded our Nation’s highest honor that day, and it is the single event in military history where so many Medals of Honor were issued in peacetime. It also greatly impacted the city of San Diego. Citizens grieved the devastation of that day alongside the Navy. It is tragic that one of those brave men had been forgotten. As our team continued to investigate, more details began to emerge from the past about this overlooked hero.

Emil was born on January 5,1867 at Royal Laying-In Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. His mother was Birthe Marie and his father was Frans Edward Biener. While his parents were not married, he spent significant time with his father and step-mother, Kristine. He loved both his mother and step-mother deeply. He often combined both their names when referring to his mother, and called her Kristina Maria. He had a younger brother, Frederik, and a younger sister, Emilie.

In 1884, Emil immigrated to America. He had a spirit of adventure and was seeking a different life than he had back home in Denmark.

Emil arrived in New York at the age of 17 and began a lifelong career of a sailor. He started on a ship as a common deck boy and over the next 15 years learned a number of different jobs. He worked as a stevedore, a fireman, a quartermaster and a boilermaker. In 1897, at age 31, Emil enlisted in the US Navy and was assigned to the USC & GS Blake. Six ships and six years later, the Navy transferred him to the USS Bennington.

Emil is one of the eleven Medal of Honor recipients from the Bennington.  Yet, there was only a single, un-detailed line in his award that described his heroism. His citation reads,

“Serving on board the U.S.S. Bennington, for extraordinary heroism displayed at the time of the explosion of a boiler of that vessel at San Diego, Calif., 21 July 1905.”

There had to be a story of Emil – and it was to be found in The San Diego History Center in Balboa Park. It was important for me to travel to San Diego to try to find information to remember him when the cemetery places a Medal of Honor headstone on his unmarked grave. Maybe it’s because I will be buried in the Veterans Cemetery, too, and it felt like a neighborly duty; or maybe it was because the story of eleven Medal of Honor awardees in peacetime in a single incident was worth finding the tale and to keep the story alive.

With the help of a San Diego History Archivist, and after viewing reels of microfilm and several old volumes of naval archives, we were able to piece together the details of that day.

It was July 21, 1905. Under a lightly overcast sky, the USS Bennington was preparing to set sail to escort the battleship USS Wyoming to Port Harford, California for repairs. The crew had finished unloading a delivery of coal, and most were below decks, cleaning up before getting underway. Unnoticed by the crew on duty, a valve on one of the forward boilers was malfunctioning. At 10:38 AM, there were two dull explosions that echoed across the bay. Lieutenant Yates, who was on duty, reported to the San Diego Examiner that:

“The explosion scarcely made an audible noise. I was knocked forward in my chair and did not know what happened.”

The New York Times stated that Captain Wentworth, who was on shore at the time of the explosion, said:

“…he saw human bodies hurled over 100 feet upward.”

Thirty nine men were killed instantaneously, and many drowned before they could be rescued.

Faulty pressure valves caused the forward boiler to explode and be blown backwards where it collided with the other boilers in the hold. Immediately a scalding cloud of steam and debris filled the forward compartment, killing all inside. Pandemonium broke and fear pervaded the decks. The New York Times reported that steam, soot and ashes filled the ship, rendering even the main deck uninhabitable. LT Yates rushed out into the passage and described the

“…steam as so dense that I could not get a breath of air.”

Eye witness accounts state that

“…some of the wounded men could hardly be recognized as human beings, so blackened were they, scalded by steam, or blasted by the explosion.”

Sailors’ screams filled the air as the steam continued to hiss on.

The survivors and the city rushed to offer aid. LT Yates called for uninjured to assist, yet only twelve men on board were able bodied enough to respond. Boats were launched from the deck to transport the survivors to shore, and civilians rushed to rescue the injured in the bay. An eyewitness later reported:

“The men bore their injuries with the greatest fortitude. Laid out in lines on the beach, they gripped one another’s hands and shut their teeth in their agony.”

The city of San Diego was devastated by the event. Hundreds of men and women stepped in to help care for the wounded. All events were canceled, and the Friday evening concert became a memorial service. Two days later the streets were lined with a silent, grieving population as the funeral procession filed past on its way to Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. Forty seven men were buried that day, laid to rest at the hands of the surviving crew. Of the 179 men aboard, 66 died and another 46 were seriously wounded.

Shortly after the funeral, plans were made for a memorial to honor the dead. A sixty foot gray granite obelisk was dedicated in 1908 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery. It is modeled after the Bennington Monument that stands in Vermont, erected to remember the Battle of Bennington. A fitting memorial to honor the lives lost that day. Thirty five white marble headstones stand in its shadow. Unlike the thousands of others that face toward the harbor, these headstones face south, looking out over the Pacific Ocean.

Emil went on to serve 33 years in the US Navy and Naval Reserve. When he was released from active duty in 1925, he moved to Keyport, Washington and continued to serve in the USNR. He was a man who worked hard his entire life. At age 75, he was still working, employed by Howard S. Wright & Co., a construction company in Bremerton. In 1944 he bought a small home in Seattle, just south of Capitol Hill. He lived the last years of his life there, dying of natural causes in 1950.

I went to San Diego to find more than just a story of heroism.

I went because no matter how long it takes, veterans have a sacred duty to honor their country by remembering its heroes.

The Cemetery has ordered and received a Veterans Affairs Department official Medal of Honor headstone. Today we will remember the act of bravery above and beyond the call to duty with full military honors, and tell more than a generic line and “…remember the Bennington.”

Soon a granite marker will mark the span of his full grave inscribed with an image of his ship and story for all to see.