After six long years, Bob Shay was more than a little happy to unveil the new sign commemorating three Bellevue boys lost in “The Great War.”
On Veterans Day 2015, nearly 100 years after the armistice which brought the First World War to an end, a local veteran honored the final sacrifice of Clarence Oscar Johnson, Victor Freed and Victor Hanson in Bellevue’s Downtown Park. The three men died overseas in 1918 and 1919.
Shay, a Navy veteran, began the project in 2009 with ample assistance from the City of Bellevue and the Eastside Heritage Center. The first monument to the three men was established in 1926, and had fallen into disrepair and neglect despite the adage forever inscribed on the concrete — “Lest we forget.”
“In 1987, when I first moved to Bellevue, I had a fairly new job. But when I went to a ceremony at the memorial, I dedicated myself to finishing what the ladies had started,” he said.
The ladies being a mysterious group called the Bellevue Minute Women, of whom very little historical record exists. They planted three trees for the three men who died in the war, and poured the cement block as a base for a flagpole.
“It was 65 feet high and all around this was farm country and pastures,” Shay said amidst the staccato sounds of construction as high-rises loomed over the park. “It could be seen everywhere.”
With $26,000 in in-kind funds and cash, the process to revitalize and rededicate the memorial did not lack for support.
Lynn Hinrichs, a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, attended the unveiling of the sign because she felt it was her patriotic duty to support those who had given their lives for the United States.
“It’s very important to lend our support to these ceremonies and having the tradition for people who died for freedom,” she said. “My brother served in Vietnam and was badly wounded. This is partly for him too.”
An honor guard from the local Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter folded an American flag while another veteran read aloud the 13 folds of the flag.
After tireless research, Shay and the Eastside Heritage Center’s Heather Trescases (among other local historians) found the final resting place for all three men who died. Two were killed in action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and another died of typhus after the war ended.
Victor Hanson served in the 308th Infantry Regiment, better known as the “Lost Battalion,” and died just days after being rescued from surrounding German forces in France.
For Shay, the day was especially emotional one. Not only had six years of his life come to fruition in such a tangible way, but earlier the same day he underwent his last treatment for cancer.
“I’m feeling good,” he said. “In a lot of ways, I’m feeling really good.”