Our nation’s most renowned veterans’ cemetery
Arlington Cemetery is our nation’s most renowned veterans’ cemetery, but for Seattle-area veterans and their spouses, being interred in Virginia would greatly hinder their loved ones from being able to visit their graves as often as they would prefer, especially prior to today’s jet age. As early as 1904, local veterans of the Spanish American War began to search for ways to honor their fallen comrades with a local cemetery of their own, but the start of the First World War delayed their efforts. Their search finally ended in 1927, when Clinton S. Harley, then General Manager of Evergreen-Washelli and a veteran of the Spanish American War himself, offered a large section of the cemetery for the burial of veterans and their spouses.
A permanent Board of Trustees was established to cooperate with Evergreen-Washelli in administering the newly founded Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery. The goal was to have the facility become “The Arlington of the West.” It was also decided that there would always be a service held at the cemetery every Memorial Day.
It is interesting to note that each section of the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery was named for a battle in which the United States Armed Forces participated. In keeping with the military theme, the bronze plaques identifying each section were contributed by the Puget Sound Navy Yard at Bremerton.
The first Memorial Day Service at the new Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery was held on May 30, 1927. Bertha K. Landes, Seattle’s mayor at the time and the very first woman to head the government of a major American city, called attention to the services and issued a proclamation. She urged all citizens to observe a moment of reverent silence at 12:00 noon, which is precisely when Battery I, 146th Field Artillery would fire a national salute of twenty-one guns on the grounds of the new cemetery. Two hours later, the first Memorial Day Service was held, which included wreaths being placed on a symbolic grave directly in front of the speakers’ platform, where Honorable Walter B. Beals of the State Supreme Court gave the principal address.
It was at this initial Memorial Day Service that the first headstone was placed. United States Marine, Private Thomas McElderry, had died on October 13, 1926, and was buried in Evergreen Memorial Park, but his mother, upon learning of the new cemetery for veterans, requested that he be placed where he would be honored for his military service. His body was disinterred and removed to the new Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery across the street.
Shortly after the cemetery was established, the American Legion donated a tall, white flagpole, which has proudly flown our nation’s Colors without interruption ever since. Each time a flag needs to be replaced, one is generously provided by the family of a deceased veteran.
Another donation was a Chimes Tower, added in the 1950’s, which rings the hours with its carillon. It stands as a permanent memorial to veterans who were buried elsewhere, but who are remembered by friends and relatives.
Guarding the walkway to the Chimes Tower are two carronades that were removed from the scarred and battered deck of the U.S.S. Constitution. Launched in 1797, the ship became famous after fighting a battle in 1812 against the Guerriere, a fast British frigate mounting 49 guns. The British ship fired furiously, but her shots glanced ineffectively from the hull of the Constitution, whose cheering crew bestowed their sturdy frigate with the famous nickname “Old Ironsides.” The Constitution soon thereafter became a symbol of the United States’ rise to a first-class power. The presence of these thirty-two pound guns and other symbols of military honor within the Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery serve to remind us that eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.