A lot of words were used to describe Pfc. Joe E. Mann at a ceremony honoring him last week: “selfless,” “patriot,” “inspiration,” “courage” and “sacrifice.”
But the one word resonated with the crowd at Greenwood Memorial Terrace: “Hero.”
Mann served in World War II with the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles. In September 1944, near Best, Holland, after getting shot in both shoulders, he pleaded to return to the battlefield to stand watch. That night he threw his body on a grenade to save six of his fellow soldiers.
Since then, the Reardan native’s name has graced a ballroom in South Carolina, a theater at Fort Campbell, Ky., a street at Fort Lewis and the armory on Market Street in Hillyard. There is a memorial that stands in his honor in Best.
Now Mann has a memorial over his grave at Greenwood. It tells the story of what he gave for his country.
The memorial to Mann is the ninth erected by the Fairmount Memorial Association, the Spokane Police Department History Book Committee and the Spokane Law Enforcement Museum. It is the first, however, that was designed in cooperation with the family of the person memorialized.
Mann’s sister, Irene Mann Bennett, wrote a couple of paragraphs that appear on the memorial, telling how he made toys for his younger siblings and scaled the spire of a church to install a new cross. One story was a fitting precursor of what kind of sacrifice Mann made on the last day of his life.
“Football became his passion,” Bennett wrote. “He threw his heart and his entire body into the game, resulting in a broken shoulder. Downplaying the injury, he pleaded to return to the field to finish the game.”
The ceremony last week included the Shaw Middle School band, which also played at the dedication of Mann Hall on Market Street in 1975.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers spoke at the event, as did Reardan Mayor Sherman Johnson and Major Glenn O. Pratt and Sgt. Major Willie S. Cooley, representatives of the 101st Airborne.
Sue Walker of the SPD History Book Committee read a letter from President Bush and presented it to the family.
Retired North Central High School history teacher Emily Sue Pike donated yellow tulips and explained the significance of the flower during the Dutch Resistance against the Nazis. The first day every Jew in Holland was to appear in public wearing a yellow Star of David, the Dutch people turned out en masse wearing yellow tulips to show their support of the Jews.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was when Mann’s niece, Rena Brown, read a letter from Tjalke Notermans, the son of the “burgomaster,” or town leader, of Best. Notermans clearly remembered hearing Mann’s name for the first time when he was 10 years old, the year the city dedicated a monument and amphitheater to him.
Notermans said he grew up in awe of Mann and explained the tradition in his village to march five miles to the amphitheater and Mann’s memorial every year.
Over the years, Notermans and the Mann family became close. Bennett told him once that Notermans was part of her “heart family.”
The new memorial is on the upper terrace of Greenwood, and Mann’s story is told in detail. It will be part of a walking tour of historic monuments in three Spokane cemeteries that tell of events and people who made a difference.
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