Bellevue’s lost sons honored at centennial anniversary of World War One

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.”

In consideration of how we voice our opinions in the modern world, we’ve closed comments on our websites. We value the opinions of our readers and we encourage you to keep the conversation going.

Please feel free to share your story tips by emailing

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) We reserve the right to edit letters, but if you keep yours to 300 words or less, we won’t ask you to shorten it.

This letter, dictated to a nurse on Victor Freed’s deathbed, was published in the Seattle Star in 1919. Courtesy of Bob Shay

Veterans and Leathernecks forming an honor guard fire rifles in honor of Clarence Oscar Johnson, Victor Hanson and Victor Freed. The three lost their lives in the First World War.

Veterans and Leathernecks forming an honor guard fire rifles in honor of Clarence Oscar Johnson, Victor Hanson and Victor Freed. The three lost their lives in the First World War.

More in News

Bellevue Chamber CEO: Volunteers help with downtown cleanup

Update: They are not seeking additional volunteers at this time. Cleanup comes after a few stores in Bellevue faced property damage from looters.

Bellevue City Hall. Photo courtesy city of Bellevue
How is COVID-19 impacting Bellevue?

New King County data dashboard breaks down case rates, number of unemployment filings and more.

Kabal Gill, owner of East India Grill in Federal Way, wears gloves to hand over take-out orders at his restaurant on March 23. File photo
New guidelines for Phase 2 reopenings in King County

All workers will need to wear masks as restaurants, retail shops and other businesses reopen.

This undated file photo provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows CDC’s laboratory test kit for the new coronavirus. Courtesy photo
Inslee wants nursing home residents and staff tested by June 12

Governor says state will pay for test kits and personal protective equipment.

Bellevue College selects Gary Locke as interim president

Locke formerly served as governor of Washington State

Stock image
Campgrounds to reopen in 22 Washington counties

Campgrounds in counties actively in Phase 2 of the reopening plan will begin to welcome visitors June 1, state says.

King County Sheriff Mitzi Johanknecht. FILE PHOTO
King County sheriff releases message about Minneapolis Police officer

Mitzi Johanknecht calls video of officer kneeling on neck of George Floyd ‘heartbreaking and disturbing’

File photo of construction near North Bend on Aug. 16. Sound Publishing file photo
                                File photo of construction near North Bend on Aug. 16. Sound Publishing file photo
Rural King County mayors want state to let them enter Phase 2

Mayors cite heavy economic damage from prolonged shutdown.

New dashboard shows how far along King County is to meeting Phase II metrics

The county has met more than half its goals, but the ones it hasn’t met are critical in determining how many people are still being infected, and how quickly people are being tested.

Most Read