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Brick by brick, momentum grows for all-Snoqualmie Valley veteran's monument

Hefting bricks for the new monument plaza in Snoqualmie, Lee Prewitt, Kathy Kerr and Dave Battey are helping build the Snoqualmie Valley Veteran’s Memorial. Kerr bought the first brick sold for her father, Silver Star honoree Clifford Gohkle.  - Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Hefting bricks for the new monument plaza in Snoqualmie, Lee Prewitt, Kathy Kerr and Dave Battey are helping build the Snoqualmie Valley Veteran’s Memorial. Kerr bought the first brick sold for her father, Silver Star honoree Clifford Gohkle.
— image credit: Seth Truscott / Snoqualmie Valley Record

Clifford Gohlke never talked much about what he did during World War II.

It took 50 years for his daughter, Kathy Kerr, to find out that her father had earned a Silver Star medal for valor.

“He said he used to chase Rommel around the desert,” said Kerr, a North Bend resident and American Legion Auxilliary officer. “That was all he would tell me.”

It took many years and the discovery of newspaper clippings and discharge papers to tell the tale of Private Gohlke, who spent nearly all of his married life in the Valley and died in 2006 at age 83.

From his papers, Kerr learned that her father had spent Word War II in North Africa and Italy with an 105-mm artillery company. A cousin sent her a 1943 clipping from the Belle Plaine, Minn., Herald detailing Clifford’s bravery.

Gohlke’s Silver Star was earned in 1943 when he and two other soldiers volunteered to find an enemy artillery observation position that was calling down heavy fire on their unit. The three men crossed a minefield and four miles of open Tunisian terrain to find the enemy nest, then relayed coordinates to big guns to destroy it. Gohlke was cited for gallantry in action.

During the war, he would be promoted only to wind up getting busted back for one lapse or other. Returning stateside to raise a big family, his soldiering days were simply not a topic of family conversation. Like many soldiers, Gohlke was tight-lipped about his past.

When Kerr learned about a memorial brick program undertaken at the new Snoqualmie Valley Veteran’s Memorial, she knew right away that her father’s name needed to be there. The brick with Clifford Gohlke’s name on it was the first one sold.

A place for all

Kerr and other veteran’s organization members have desired an all-Valley memorial for three decades.

While localized memorials exist at Mount Si High School and some Valley cemeteries, other monuments have come and gone. Large memorials once stood at the Weyerhauser mill entrance and at the Bendigo intersection in North Bend. But they vanished decades ago.

“All the temporary monuments to those who died have been lost,” Kerr said. “It is so very important to make a permanent memorial for them, one that will withstand time and can be viewed and enjoyed by all.”

Two years ago, the Snoqualmie Valley Veteran’s Memorial Committee formed to push for a new monument in association with the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, American Legion Post 79, VFW Post 9476, the Tolt Historical Societies and the city of Snoqualmie.

The project would memorialize veterans from Snoqualmie Pass, North Bend, Snoqualmie, Fall City, Preston, Carnation, Duvall, surrounding areas and the nation at large.

Committee members pored over monthly newsletters from the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company, which listed fallen local soldiers in World War II, and explored records from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Historical Society member Dave Battey explained that some Valley residents were so eager to fight the Axis even before Pearl Harbor, they went to Canada and volunteered.

Twelve Valley residents died in World War I, six in the Korean War and eight in Vietnam. One name, Mount Si graduate and Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Levi Ward, is on the list for the current Iraq-Afghanistan conflict.

Forty people—38 men and two women—gave their lives for their country during World War II. Battey said that number seems like a dramatic sacrifice for so small a community.

Shape of Si

Ground was broken for the project on Veteran’s Day, 2008, on land next to the Snoqualmie Legion Post, donated by the city directly across from city hall. Committee members considered places like Tollgate Farm, Meadowbrook Farm and the Fall City roundabout, but chose the Snoqualmie site for its easy access, association with veteran’s groups and lack of cost.

Plans call for a central stone monument surrounded by seven flag poles, benches and a brick plaza. Stone columns will display the emblems of military branches.

Part of the stone will be carved with a tribal symbol reflecting Snoqualmie Tribe members’ sacrifices for the larger nation.

In 1855, Snoqualmie warriors fought on the side of Washington territory’s white settlers.

“There were losses,” Battey said. “Nobody knows who they were. But we still want to honor them.”

The central stone will terminate in a three-dimensional carving of Mount Si. That helps viewers find "their" Mount Si, Battey said.

Today's needs

While progress has been slow, monument boosters have recently begun an energetic series of pitches to Valley service clubs.

The project requires about $72,000 in cash and in-kind donations. To date, the committee still has $27,000 in cash to raise.

The brick fundraiser sells memorial blocks for $100. Bricks can be inscribed with the name of any loved one who served their country, regardless of whether the Valley was their home.

Other fundraisers in the works include a drive by Boy Scout Troop 492, once based at the lost mill town of Snoqualmie Falls, and a grant application to the state's veteran's license plate fund.

Big night

The memorial project should get a big boost from an upcoming dinner and auction fundraiser.

The Veteran’s Memorial Foundation hosts a silent auction, wine tasting and dinner benefit, 3 to 8:30 p.m. on Veteran’s Day, Thursday, Nov. 11, at the Fall City Roadhouse, 4200 Preston-Fall City Road, Fall City. Reservations can be made by calling (425) 222-4800.

All presale tickets will qualify for a door prize.

The dinner and action is being co-sponsored by Donna Padilla and the Ward and McNeal family, survivors of Marine LCpl. Eric Ward.

"It's a great way to come down and show support for the family," Chartier said.

Monica McNeal, mother of Eric, said the all-Valley memorial is long overdue.

When ground was broken in 2008, "it just didn't have the momentum," she said. "The momentum is behind it now. We're hoping we can get it up and running."

Project boosters said the goal can be reached in the next year.

"11/11/11 is my goal," said committee chairwoman Chris Chartier. "I see that ribbon being cut in my mind on Veteran's Day of 2011."

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