A half-dozen volunteers squinted in the noonday sun Wednesday in Millwood, watching as the 400-pound steel arch marked “WWI Memorial” was hoisted atop two granite columns.
“How cool is that?” said Rae Anna Victor, a member of a local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, as workers placed the signature piece of a memorial several months in the making. “I’m excited. Isn’t that beautiful?”
Victor and other organizers hope for a larger crowd at 11 a.m. Monday just south of the Argonne Road bridge, as members of multiple branches of the military and veterans’ groups help dedicate the memorial to the local men lost in combat in the first great war. The ceremony is intended to mimic an observation held 99 years ago that dedicated the bridge to the memory of those lost in the final vicious months of fighting leading to the ceasefire.
“I’m really, really hoping to have at least two or three hundred people here,” Victor said.
Six hundred people filed onto the new concrete span that had been built adjacent to the Inland Empire Paper Co. on the chilly morning of Nov. 11, 1920, according to a front page account in that evening’s Spokane Daily Chronicle. On that day, the second “Armistice Day” that would later be renamed “Veterans Day” in America, artillery guns were fired in downtown Spokane to honor an end to hostilities that claimed the lives of some 200 local men.
The new Argonne bridge included a pair of plaques on both ends of the span, one listing the bridge’s name, its date of dedication and elected officials overseeing its construction. A second set of plaques listed the names of the Spokane County soldiers killed in combat. The plaques listing the names of the dead had been lost, so the groups sponsoring the new memorial in Millwood re-created them for the base of their structure.
But the memorial will include one of the original dedication plaques, discovered in the basement of the county’s engineering departmen,t as a remnant of when the bridge was remodeled in 1970.
“When this started out, all we were going to do was try to replace the plaques on the bridge,” said Victor.
Victor gave credit to multiple organizations for helping make the memorial a reality, at an estimated cost of more than $14,000. Those groups include chapters of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Chapter No. 1 of the Sons of the American Revolution, Millwood History Enthusiasts, local historian Chuck King, Rick Nelson of The Gate Guy metal working firm in Mead, the City of Millwood, and Home Depot, which donated labor and some of the materials to build the structure at Argonne Road and Empire Avenue.
The thanks were also extended to Inland Empire Paper Co., a subsidiary of the Cowles Co., which publishes The Spokesman-Review. Waldo G. Rosebush, a project planner for the mill who had served in the American Expeditionary Forces in World War I, spoke at the Argonne bridge dedication in 1920.
On the same day, the Marne bridge was dedicated over Latah Creek. It still stands as a link between the Peaceful Valley and Sunset Hill neighborhoods in west Spokane. Both bridges were named for battles fought in 1918, after Americans had entered the war. An estimated 45,807 Americans were killed or wounded in fighting at the Second Battle of the Marne. In the fight for the Argonne forest that spanned 47 days, 122,063 American casualties were reported. It’s still considered the single deadliest campaign in U.S. military history.
Vikkie Naccarato, of the Millwood History Enthusiasts, said it was important to honor the memory of World War I, which she said can be overshadowed by the conflict that followed.
“It’s just so connected to World War II,” said Naccarato, who lives in the historic former home of Rosebush in Millwood that was designed by famed architect Harold Whitehouse. “I mean, it was just such groundwork for (World War II), that it just has a tendency to be absorbed into it.”
A monument to World War II was dedicated on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in 2004. Fundraising is underway to build a monument to World War I just off the mall, with a dedication planned for 2021.
King, a frequent contributor to Nostalgia Magazine, put Victor and Nacarrato in touch with Nelson, who’s had some experience honoring local history by restoring the previous Spokane County Jail yard gates that are now installed outside the courthouse on Broadway Avenue.
“I was raised out here, and I went to West Valley,” King said. “So I knew about Argonne, and the battle, and all that. I’ve learned a lot that I didn’t know.”
The Millwood City Council carved out a public right-of-way just south of the paper mill to house the memorial, which will include dozens of poppy plants that should bloom in time for Memorial Day. A plaque in the flower bed features the lyric poem “In Flanders Fields,” written in 1915 to honor the war dead by Lt. Col. James McCrae of the Canadian army.
Atop the memorial sits an authentic “doughboy” helmet, steel headwear issued to American soldiers to protect them from artillery fire. Victor found the piece on eBay for $84.
Victor has planned the ceremony down to the detail, hoping to mimic the calls for peace that came with that dedication 99 years ago. It’s an effort that has taken an army of its own, she said.
“People have just come out of the woodwork,” Victor said.
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