When Marc Lange gazes at the tall basalt column of the Pearl Harbor Memorial in front of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena, he gets choked up.
Not because the names of his two great-uncles killed during World War II are on a plaque affixed to the stone. Not because he was instrumental in the effort to have the stone placed here two years ago. The emotions come, he said, because the stone is a marker for those who died for their country.
“If you think about this,” he said, looking at the column, “these guys set up a perimeter of protection. We still have to be vigilant. I think that’s what they were trying to tell us – protect what you have.”
But Lange is quick to deflect credit for orchestrating the memorial’s rise.
“Nobody had a lot of plans,” Lange said. “We just got it done.”
The column’s path, from underground to standing against the sky, was shepherded by many people.
From Winona to Spokane
In the town of Winona, Washington, the Palouse peeks through the crust of the earth as columns of basalt. It’s there that the raw material for the Pearl Harbor Memorial was originally extracted.
Inspiration for the project came from Warren and Betty Schott, both of whom lived through the 1941 attack. In the memorial’s early phases, they were joined by other veterans in the Spokane chapter of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association.
The Shotts are no longer alive, but as a friend, Lange would often drop by to visit them. Lange remembers sitting in a room with them four or five years ago, hearing them ponder over how to get a memorial for Pearl Harbor in Spokane.
“What would a basalt column look like?” Lange asked the two.
Lange produced a few rough sketches of columns in different formations, which he admits didn’t take much skill.
He remembers Betty Schott saying, “That would be lovely.”
So the Schotts took the sketches to the association, which quickly approved the design.
“They liked the idea,” Lange said. “The basalt formations are a phenomenon of nature, fairly rare, but some are found locally. Kind of the like the men and women of this group.”
After the Shotts contacted Lange and told him the basalt column was the choice, things quickly fell into place.
An idea comes together
During this time, author Carol Edgemon Hipperson was involved with the the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, interviewing members for her second book, “Radioman: An Eyewitness Account of Pearl Harbor and WWII in the Pacific.” Her contact with the group drew her into the plans for a memorial.
She reached out to Mayor David Condon in October 2013 and told him about the idea, but they needed Condon to sign off on a location. Condon told them they could place it anywhere they wanted, Hipperson said.
At the time, gears were still turning in Lange’s head. He reached out to a friend, Dave Messersmith, a farmer who also ran a rock pit in Winona. Lange bought the column from Messersmith, who “gladly helped supply a beauty,” Lange said.
Messersmith drove the column to Spokane, where he was able to unload it with some of the equipment from Lange’s trucking business.
The Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, meanwhile, was gathering donations to buy twobronze-cast plaques.
Hipperson, with Condon’s approval for a location, approached the Public Facilities District’s general manager, Matt Gibson.
When he heard the idea, “I thought it was pretty awesome,” Gibson said.
Gibson reached out to Spokane’s Garco Construction, which volunteered to hoist the slab and cement it into the earth.
In August 2014, Garco employees picked up the column from Lange and drove it to its current site, southeast of the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. The plaques were installed shortly after. .
The big reveal
But it wouldn’t be until Dec. 7, 2014, when the public reveal would draw a crowd to the site, on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor.
Lange stood in the crowd that day, a sheet covering the 7-foot-tall basalt column. When the sheet was removed, Lange saw the plaques for the first time.
The top plaque read, “Remember Pearl Harbor” and “Keep America Alert,” with a crest of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association crest, an eagle holding a bomb in its talons.
But the plaque below shocked Lange.
It read, “Stone donated by the Lange Family,” and was dedicated to two of Lange’s great-uncles, who both died in WWII.
“ I was honored beyond belief,” he said. “It was unexpected. I couldn’t believe that.”
Although Lange’s great-uncles weren’t at Pearl Harbor – one had been killed in Ecuador and another died as a prisoner in the Philippines – that hadn’t dampened Lange’s commitment to the memorial.
At the column on Thursday, Lange held a picture of his great-uncle, Col. Walter Burgess of the U.S. Air Force, one of the names on the plaque.
“My dad looks just like this guy,” he said.
Lange’s family has branched across the United States, and the stone is dedicated to them all because, “It’s not about me,” he said of the dedication.
And the work it took making the memorial happen, that was a group effort, too. “Everybody took the responsibility along the way,” Lange said.
“Why do people help?” he said. “Pretty easy when you see what all these people gave to protect us.”
Editor’s note: This story was changed Dec. 7, 2018 to remove incorrect information regarding the death during World War II in Ecuador of Lange’s great uncle.
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