On April 6, 1917, the United States Congress voted overwhelmingly to declare war on the Empire of Germany, plunging America into one of the bloodiest wars in human history.
Before it would officially end on a train car in Versailles more than a year-and-a-half later, thousands of Americans were dead. Three Bellevue men lost their lives in that theater.
Exactly 100 years after the United States entered “The Great War,” Bellevue resident and veteran Bob Shay honored the fallen with an event at Bellevue’s Downtown Park.
“We’re here today to commemorate the United States’ entrance into World War One,” Shay said. “The [Veterans of Foreign Wars] is a congressionally chartered organization and as such, one of our duties is to never forget.”
Corporal Clarence Oscar Johnson was employed as a truck driver in Seattle when he registered with the Army. He enlisted with the 361st Infantry Regiment in the 91st “Wild West” Division and died Sept. 29, 1918 of wounds received during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
That offensive was the largest and bloodiest for the American Expeditionary Force in the First World War, costing the lives of 26,277. Johnson died just three days into that battle, which lasted 47 days.
Private Victor Hanson was the next Bellevue boy to die. He died in an Army hospital of a head wound received during the same Meuse-Argonne Offensive on Oct. 14, 1918.
He served in the lauded 308th Infantry Regiment (of “Lost Battalion” fame) in the 77th “Statue of Liberty” Infantry Division. The Hanson family opened the first garage on Bellevue’s Main Street and also involved in building the Bellevue Baptist Church. His family didn’t believe he had died and sent out missing person fliers until 1919.
Private Victor Freed died of typhoid after hostilities ended, succumbing to the disease on Jan. 19, 1919.
Freed, a medic in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, served in Curel, France. His body was brought back to the United States and laid to rest at Hills of Eternity Cemetery in Seattle.
On his death bed, a Red Cross nurse helped him pen a touching letter to his mother. It was later printed in the Seattle Star newspaper.
“I think my condition is very low,” Freed dictated to the nurse. “I hate to tell you this, mother, for I know how much you love me — how much you love me.”
“The doctor has not told what my diagnosis is, but I have a hunch that I am not going to recover,” he continued. “It is just awful, mother, and I do not know how to conclude this letter and say goodbye. I know it is awful to lose a son, but if it has to be done, it must be done. So, in conclusion, beloved mother, if anything happens to me, try to forget me. Your loving boy, Victor.”
The nurse who wrote the letter, Ivy Dolby, wrote a note to Mrs. Freed telling her Victor had been in the hospital for two weeks. Dolby also told of a motorcycle Freed had stored in Seattle.
After the war, the Bellevue Minute Women planted three elms to commemorate Johnson, Hanson and Freed in what is now Downtown Park.
Shay, a color guard and members of local veterans organizations came out in drizzly conditions to offer solemn remembrance of those three sons of Bellevue’s ultimate sacrifice. An honor guard fired blanks in their honor.
A wreath of poppies made by Bellevue High School students stood guard near a memorial for the three lost soldiers.
“This is a solemn date,” Shay said. “Those three men went forward as the living embodiment of our flag. They left their peace time pursuits and made the ultimate sacrifice.”