Wars Remembered and Wars Forgotten

Separate monuments next to the walk leading to Redwood City’s City Hall, all large rock slabs adorned with plaques, remind passersby of the ultimate sacrifices made in World War II, the Korean conflict and the war in Vietnam.

The World War II plaque lists the names of the 42 men from Redwood City, a town with a population of only 12,400 in 1940, who died in what historian Ken Burns called simply “The War.”

In much bigger lettering, the Vietnam War memorial lists 15 names from a city that had 55,686 residents in the census of 1970.  Off to the side in what seems an afterthought is a piece of granite dedicated to those who fought in the Korean War. There are no names listed on what the memorial calls “The Forgotten War.”

Redwood City’s truly “forgotten war” is World War I, an oversight that possibly stems from the fact that San Mateo Memorial Park in LaHonda was dedicated to all San Mateo County people killed in “the war to end all war.”

“Of all Peninsula communities, perhaps none was more profoundly effected than Redwood City,” opined historian Michael Svanevik, who said 284 Redwood City men served and ten died. The figures are for a city that had only 2,442 residents when the census was taken in 1910 before the United States went “over there” a century ago next year.

Well, World War I was a long time ago, you say. So was The Civil War, yet that bloody conflict is recalled in a Grand Army of the Republic plot at Union Cemetery. The cemetery that dates back to 1859, a six acre site off Woodside Road, contains the remains of about 40 Civil War veterans. Not one was killed in the war – nor born in Redwood City.  A statue of a Civil War soldier, complete with rifle, looks out over the graves from atop a base that reads: “to the memory of California’s patriotic dead who served during the War of the Union.”   

The names of two of the ten local men who died in World War I, Lloyd Thrush and James Wilson, are, however, engraved on the six foot tall, 54-inch wide gray granite monument at Sequoia High School that lists the school’s alumni who died while serving in the armed forces. Unlike the monuments at City Hall, the Sequoia one does not break down deaths into conflicts. Thrush and Wilson clearly are lost among the many more men who died in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Researchers at the history room of the Redwood City Library recently discovered that the 1919 Sequoia yearbook had pages of information about Wilson and Thrush. Wilson was killed in action in the battle of the Argonne while Thrush died in the flu epidemic that swept through the world during the war.

More than 700 people turned out in 2005 for the dedication of the high school’s monument, which was largely the work of Dee Eva, class of 1961, who lost three friends in the Vietnam fighting.

Eva said the memorial, which is surrounded by 22,000 square feet of lawn as well as redwood trees, has become so well known people are using it “to remember friends and family members even though they did not attend Sequoia nor serve in the military.”

She said people purchase concrete benches or bricks and engrave them with the names of relatives. Some buy boulders and place plaques on them. One impressive bench honors 18 veterans from the Carini family, dating back to Giuseppe Carini from World War I.

The huge monument was not the first at Sequoia High. Nearby is a plaque the class of 1955 dedicated to those “who gave their lives in the service of their country.” The plaque rests on a stone donated by the class of 1962.      

A Medal of Honor Recipient

A football field length or so from the Sequoia campus is the American Legion hall, a one story structure at El Camino and Brewster fronted by .a large lawn, a flagpole and welcoming signs. The hall opened in 1949, replacing the legion meeting place at Mezes Park, where a World War II light tank still stands guard.  If visitors look to the right after walking through the front door, they will see a photo of Post 105’s most famous member, Mitchell Paige, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his exploits at the Battle of Guadalcanal. Paige, who went to the final muster in 2003, was a marine sergeant on Oct. 26, 1942 when, with all his men either dead or wounded, he moved from machine gun to machine gun as he fired into the advancing enemy. Then, when reinforcement arrived, he led a bayonet charge, according to his citation.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars Post, named after the earlier noted James Wilson, meets at the Veterans Memorial Senior Center on Madison Avenue near Community Park. Opened in 1956, the center resulted from lobbying by the VFW and the American Legion to get the city to build a meeting place for their organizations, according to a center publication called “Honoring Our Legacy.” Today the operative word in the center’s name is more senior than veteran. Offering scores of activities for senior citizens, nearly 3,000 people use the center, resulting in 10,000 visits per month.

Redwood City also has an unusual reminder of war – the remains of a World War I destroyer that sits in mudflats in the bay. The USS Thompson was used for target practice during World War II.

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Jim Clifford retired in 2000 after a 40-year career as a news reporter, a span split between United Press International and the Associated Press. He writes the “Rear View Mirror” history column that appears in the San Mateo Daily Journal. He also writes history stories for several magazines, including Climate, The Journal of Local History and La Peninsula.

Clifford, the author of “Philip’s Code: No News is Good News — to a Killer,” is veteran of both the Navy and Air Force. He and his wife, Peggy, met when they were students at San Francisco State. The native San Franciscans moved down the Peninsula to Redwood City where they raised seven children. “Times were good,” Clifford said.

Jim Clifford

Jim Clifford retired in 2000 after a 40-year career as a news reporter, a span split between United Press International and the Associated Press. He writes the "Rear View Mirror" history column that appears in the San Mateo Daily Journal. He also writes history stories for several magazines, including Climate, The Journal of Local History and La Peninsula.

Clifford, the author of "Philip's Code: No News is Good News - to a Killer," is veteran of both the Navy and Air Force. He and his wife, Peggy, met when they were students at San Francisco State. The native San Franciscans moved down the Peninsula to Redwood City where they raised seven children. "Times were good," Clifford said.