The Chimes Tower at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery
Standing orderly and precise as a regiment of soldiers, over 5000 white marble headstones in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery at Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park
marks the final resting place of our nation’s defenders. Soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen are there—assembled by the heart-throbbing call of taps to their last rendezvous. Privates and generals sleep side by side in the democracy of death.
This “Arlington of the West” at Washelli is one of the finest veteran cemeteries. The story of its founding and development is a tribute to the dreams and tireless efforts of a few Seattle men who envisioned a burial place for their comrades. Starting from an idea in the early 1920s, in a few short years a sandy slop was transformed into green fields of honor. Veteran’s Post and Camps named the sections; a battery of Field Artillery fired the national salute. The Veterans Memorial Cemetery was a reality. Since the first burial in 1927, heroes have been laid to rest there.
As early as 1904, veterans of the Spanish American War conceived the idea of such a cemetery, little dreaming greater wars were soon to occur. The First World War banished thoughts of a cemetery, but after the Armistice the veterans of the First World War joined the Spanish American War veterans in a search for a burial ground for their honored dead. This search finally ended in 1927 with the acceptance of an offer of space in Washelli cemetery made by Clinton S. Harley, a Spanish American War veteran himself, who at the time was the General Manager of Evergreen-Washelli.
One of the first things to be done in the establishment of a Veterans Memorial Cemetery was the setting up of a permanent Board of Trustees to cooperate with Evergreen-Washelli in administering “The Arlington of the West.” With this purpose in mind, a meeting was called to a committee representing veteran posts. Major C.R. Christie, of Colonel Theodore Roosevelt Post No. 24, V.F.W.; R.A. Koch, University Post No. 11, American Legion; Harry Dorman, Fortson-Thygesen Camp U.S.W.V.; George Bundy, Rainier Noble Post No. 1, American Legion; Alex Ronald, Maple Leaf Post 21, American Legion; C.E. Butter-worth, Disabled American Veterans, and Clinton S. Harley, United States War Veterans.
One of the most interesting ceremonies concerning the establishing of the cemetery was the naming of sections. Each is named for a battle in which the United States forces participated. The bronze plaques carrying the names of the sections were contributed by the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton and in 1932 were dedicated at a simple but impressive service.
One of the provisions for establishment of the Veterans Memorial Cemetery was that it be the scene of Annual Memorial Day Services, and plans for the initial Memorial Service were begun at the organizational meeting of the Board of Trustees. The first service was held on May 30, 1927. Seattle Mayor Bertha K. Landes issued a proclamation calling attention to the services and urging all citizens to observe a moment of reverent silence at 12:00 noon when the national salute of twenty-one guns was fired by Battery F, 146th Field Artillery in the Veterans Memorial Cemetery. Two hours later, at two o’clock, the first Memorial Day Service was held. Patriotic organizations placed wreaths on a symbolic grave located immediately in front of the speakers’ platform erected for the occasion. Honorable Walter B. Beals of Olympia, member of the State Supreme Court, made the principal address of the service. Since that day, various Governors in the State of Washington and distinguished military people have addressed the Memorial Day crowds.
In was at this initial Memorial Day service that the first headstone was placed. It was over the grave of Private Thomas McElderry, member of the U.S. Marine Corps, died October 13, 1926 and was buried in Evergreen Memorial Park. At the request of his mother, the veteran’s body was disinterred and removed to the new Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
Since that first Memorial Day service in 1927, a similar service has been held every Memorial Day with increasing participation from veteran and patriotic groups of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. Shortly after the cemetery was established, the University Post of the American Legion donated a flagpole and when the slim white mast was erected, a flag was broken from its peak. Since that time, the pole has never been without the nation’s colors. The flags are generously provided by families of deceased veterans.
A Chimes Tower, added in the Fifties rings the hours with its carillon. Contributed by veterans’ groups and families of veterans buried there, the statue’s concrete and amber glass façade bearing the emblems identifying some of the groups that helped build it, make it an attraction for visitors to the cemetery and a permanent memorial to veterans buried elsewhere, but remembered by friends and relatives.
Scout Pack 328 and the Old Ironsides Carronade, courtesy of Anne Chamberlain 2009
Two 32-pound carronades from the USS Constitution “Old Ironsides” guard the walkway to the Chimes Tower. These are guns that were removed from the scarred and battered deck of Old Ironsides when that memorable and colorful “Old Man O’ War” was rebuilt. The guns now stand silent vigils over the graves in the Veterans Cemetery. The Warren O. Grimm Post of Kirkland donated guns representing the First World War to the cemetery. Also, two large pieces of artillery were received from the armed services of the United States by the courtesy of veterans’ organizations and the Seattle Police Department. These guns which stand in the cemetery guarding our honored dead, are intended to serve as symbols of the power and might of a free people and, as such, can remind us that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.