Memorial Day comes May 25 and COVID-19 concerns have canceled events, including the annual ceremony at White Salmon Cemetery.
But the memories remain, along with the names on the 250 plaques on the memorial’s Walk of Honor.
This is the Veterans Memorial and Walk of Honor’s 10th anniversary. Founder Jerry Smith of Husum approached the cemetery board 12 years ago about creating the memorial, and it was dedicated in November 2010.
“Because of the coronavirus, we can’t have it,” Smith said of the Memorial Day event. “The government hasn’t told me I can’t, but it’s the idea of no groups, and so many people coming are elderly.”
The cemetery is located about a mile north of White Salmon, on Snowden Road. Smith gained permission to build it, on cemetery-owned land, and the V-shaped memorial abuts a section of the cemetery where some of those honored are buried.
“It’s a real eyeopener for people. They come from all over, and don’t expect to see this,” he said. Two 100-foot Walk of Honor paths intersect at a 12-foot stone obelisk that carries a plaque reading, “Dedicated to those who offered their lives that justice, freedom and our Republic might endure.”
The obelisk is topped with a metal sculpture of the universal symbol of the kneeling soldier.
Numerous donors and community partners participated in the building of the memorial, according to Smith, who designed the memorial and walk of honor himself and did much of the construction work, with help from a friend and builder, George Mercereau.
The Memorial Day ceremony is canceled, but anyone can go there during daylight hours to pay respects. Smith devised a unique method for doing so, involving coins. Visitors may leave coins at each plaque, indicating your relationship to the person memorialized:
Penny — paying respects
Nickel — served in boot camp with the honoree
Dime — served with the honoree
Quarter — were with the honoree when they died
Most coins are loose, though some people glue them down.
Those with plaques need to have served in the military.
“It’s a nice thing to do, it’s educational,” he said.
Flags grace the plaques honoring the memory of veterans. The banners remain in place permanently, and Smith replaces worn stars-and-stripes with new ones as soon as they start to get worn.
“We replace them all every so often. I don’t let them get ratty,” said Smith, himself a veteran of the U.S. Army.
“We have so many people coming here to see this thing. It doesn’t give me much choice, because that’s the way it’s going to be. I ask the cemetery guys, ‘You get many complaints about this place?’ It’s bringing in more people than ever."
Smith took up the memorial idea when he had retired and knew he wanted to do something for the community.
“I wanted to do something, to take on a project, I spent a lot of time with the board who I knew, and told them what I wanted to do.
“This was a big deal for the veterans. When it was built it went over really well.
“There’s nothing I could think of that I would rather do than take on the project,” said Smith, 82, who has lived in Husum since he was a child. He was a car dealer, owning Jerry Smith Autos in White Salmon and he went to work for Cliff Smith (no relation) Motors in Hood River.
The memorial will live on with the help of what Smith calls “The un-dead file”: His list of living veterans whose family members have informed him they want to a plaque when the time comes. “I have had really good support from the Elks and other organizations. I know everyone, and lots of people are veterans and I don’t think there will be any problem of this getting kept up,” said Smith.