Unfolding the American flag from its military triangles, Commander Brian Beatty of Technical Sergeant Snell Post 42 fastened it to the pole’s rope and hoisted it to the top of the flagpole on Oct. 13. This was the inaugural flag-raising in Evanston’s redesigned Veterans Plaza and Fountain Square.
The red, white and blue flag and the black and white POW-MIA flag below it caught the chilly morning breeze, as veterans, local officials and community members dedicated the new veterans memorial wall at the north end of the plaza.
The names of Evanstonians who died in wars from the Civil War to Vietnam are etched in white on a field of blue glass. A visitor can infer red, not visible in the color scheme, in the blood of those fallen soldiers. Above the names are the words “They Gave Their Lives In War That We Might Live In Peace.”
This is the third iteration of the community’s monument to each member of the armed services who died while serving the country. RoundTable editor Victoria Scott wrote last year that on Armistice Day [now called Veterans Day] 1949, Evanston dedicated Fountain Square “with its three-basin, recirculating granite fountain and granite cenotaph listing Evanston’s war casualties.”
Two years later, in 1951, General Douglas McArthur, his wife and son visited Evanston. The General laid a wreath at the base of the flag pole in honor of Evanstonians who died serving their country. His words, formerly inscribed on a plaque on the flagpole are also inscribed on the glass wall: “I do not know the dignity of the men’s births but I do know the glory of their death. They died that this nation and all the things it stands for shall not perish from this earth.”
Just as the country’s centennial in 1876 was the impetus for Evanston’s installing the original fountain in the square, the bicentennial celebration engendered a new fountain. Ms. Scott wrote. “The war memorial went into storage, replaced by bronze plaques on brick columns with the names of the City’s war dead from the Civil War to Vietnam.”
The space honoring the war dead was renamed Veterans Memorial Plaza in 2003.
Maintenance for Fountain Square was lax, and efforts to get City Council to approve funding for a new fountain, plaza and memorial finally paid off, with the construction of the new plaza with its grade-level fountain jets and memorial wall.
Commander Beatty noted that many communities have monuments dedicated “To Our Veterans” but Evanston is one of the few to honor the war dead by name. Only the names are inscribed on the wall, Cmdr. Beatty noted. “Branch of service, race, sexual orientation, because branch of service, race and ethnicity don’t matter. … When they died, I don’t think they thought of Evanston, but Evanston thought about them.”
“As long as our residents have served their country, Evanston has honored them,” said Mayor Stephen Hagerty. He spoke of the family members left behind when a soldier dies in the line of duty. His grandfather Howard, he said, died in World War II, before ever meeting his daughter. Mayor Hagerty said he honors his grandfather by signing his full name, Stephen Howard Hagerty, to official documents.
New Names on Veterans Memorial Wall Give Families Closure
The new memorial bears the names of two more soldiers – men who were killed long ago but whose remains were lately verified: Corporal Dower Laronza Griffin Jr. and Captain George Duncan Macdonald.
Born in 1929, Corporal Griffin was severely wounded in the Korean War, said his friend and childhood neighbor, Bennett Johnson. Cpl. Griffin died in captivity.
“He gave his life for this country,” said Mr. Johnson, “the ultimate sacrifice anyone can give.”
The “date of loss” for Cpl. Griffin is Dec. 1, 1950. As late as this summer, remains of some U.S. soldiers who died in Korea were returned to the United States.
Jeanette Frye, the sister of Cpt. Macdonald, spoke of her brother – and the family’s frustrating efforts to learn what happened to him.
Born in 1948, George Macdonald attended Evanston Township High School and The Ohio State University, where he joined ROTC. A childhood injury kept him from being a pilot, so he became a navigator, and was deployed to Vietnam in 1971. The AC130 plane on which Cpt. Macdonald served as a navigator was shot down over Laos just a few months before the conflict officially ended. Two of the crew were later rescued, the partial remains of another crew member were identified, and the crew members were presumed dead or held as prisoners of war.
Later, according to thewallusa.com, the U.S. Army’s Central Identification Laboratory said it identified DNA from all missing crew members at the crash site, but the family member of one crew member, Captain Thomas Hart, disputed the evidence. Lawsuits and other testing ensued, and in 1987, the Air Force officially admitted it erred in the identification, and the government rescinded the “identification” of Cpt. Hart and Cpt. Macdonald.
David Stern, a Marine who coached track and field at ETHS at that time, wrote on thewallusa.com, “Abandoned by the US in Laos, you will always be remembered as a bright student, champion runner, effective leader, loyal friend, and courageous military patriot. George you were the best of the best.”
Cpt. Macdonald’s family pursued the search for news of what happened to their son and brother, writing letters to Congress and seeking help from the press. In July 2017 – nearly 45 years after the crash – the family members were notified that Cpt. Macdonald’s remains had been found.
On Aug. 6 of that year, several family members accepted the remains of Cpt. Macdonald and, the following day, attended a service at Arlington National Cemetery.
Cpt. Macdonald’s name is on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall in Washington, D.C. – with the last name miscapitalized. The family also wished to have him remembered in his hometown.
Cpt. Macdonald’s name, spelled correctly, is on the list of names of soldiers who died serving their country in the Vietnam War.
“We have been working for years to get my brother’s name on that wall,” Christopher Macdonald, the Captain’s twin brother, told the RoundTable. “This is the final closure.”