Veterans Memorial Honors Edina's Patriotic Heritage by Remembering Those Who Serve in Uniform

Regardless of whether they were born in Edina or subsequently settled there, every Edina resident is both beneficiary and co-trustee of a continuing legacy of patriotic military service. Thousands of its native and adopted sons and daughters have served in the Army, Navy, Marines, Coast Guard, Air Force, or Merchant Marine during times of peace and war since Edina was incorporated in 1888. With the city’s proud patriotic heritage, it is fitting that Edina’s citizens and government worked closely together to establish a Veterans Memorial honoring the service of all past, current, and future American veterans, especially – but not only – those with Edina connections. The heraldic memorial was dedicated May 25, 2015. It stands near the Minnehaha Creek at 50th Street and Wooddale Avenue.

The rich legacy of military service, which is as much a part of Edina’s heritage as the Grange Hall and the iconic gristmill on the creek, took root even before Edina was incorporated as a village. It extends back to the Civil War era when James Bryant, Dean Richardson, James Hawkes, and other residents of what was then rural western Richfield Township reported to Fort Snelling to volunteer for military service. Returning Union soldiers from the community were joined after the war by fellow veterans, like Michael Maloney, Preston Cooper, and Beverly (B.C.) Yancey, who had lived elsewhere in the antebellum Republic and came West to settle in what was then still a part of Richfield Township.

Poetically, the site where the Veterans Memorial stands abuts the original Grange Hall location where pioneer settlers came together with their neighbors in December 1888 to vote for incorporation, and the Village of Edina came into being. It was also at the Grange Hall that Michael Maloney and the sons of James Hawkes and Preston Cooper went on to serve as Trustees of the newly incorporated village, and B.C. Yancey served as Justice of the Peace.

The focal point of the Veterans Memorial is a heroic bronze eagle positioned with a trifold American flag. The castings rest on a black granite base into which 32 names have been etched. These are the names of the native and adopted sons of Edina who have died in the line-of-duty during time of war since Edina was incorporated in 1888.

The first Edina hometown hero to die in time of war was Private Elmer Sherman. Elmer enlisted to serve in World War I when he was only 17, and was just 18 when he was killed in France’s Argonne Forest in 1918. Roy and Elizabeth Sherman’s young son was the first resident of Edina to volunteer for service in World War I. He was the only one not to return. Twenty-five Edina-Morningside residents perished during World War II, three during Korea, and three in Vietnam. The last was Harvey and Marion Peterson’s son David, who grew up on Rolf Avenue and graduated from Edina High School in 1966. David Peterson was three days away from celebrating his 21st birthday when he was killed on a jungle battleground near the Vietnamese/Cambodian border. Many sons and daughters of Edina have served in combat areas since David Peterson died in 1969. Thankfully, none have perished.

It is inadequate to bundle and remember Elmer Sherman and David Peterson – and the 30 other hometown heroes whose names are etched into the monument’s granite pedestal – as young men from Edina whose lives ended tragically and early while serving our country in time of war. There is much more to be told. Each name has its own unique story of a hometown hero who loved and was loved: Owen Baird will forever be 21. Hal Thorson will never be 21; Chuck Prescott did not get to see his children grow and bloom. Bill Bates lost the opportunity to marry and have children; Donald Hale fell from the skies. Warren Halverson perished in ground combat. Bernard Johnson was slain by his captors in a POW camp; Don Hill is buried in Minneapolis at Lakewood Cemetery. John Entrikin rests below the waves. Henry Mickelsen lies in an unmarked grave on Bataan; Walter Strubel was an only child. Hill Larson had seven siblings; Rollie Klatt was a relative newcomer to Edina. Joseph Redpath carried a storied Edina family name. Frank Ellis died at Pearl Harbor in the opening minutes of World War II. Ed Christl was killed in the final hours of the conflict in Europe. The list of differences goes on and on.

If any one of these 32 forever-young men could somehow speak to us today, his plea from the shadows would likely be to remember him and the others as they were, not just as names etched in stone. That said, remembering the hometown heroes as they were, either individually or together, can be as emotional as it is inspirational. Here are some glimpses:

Chuck and Jane Prescott lived on Oakdale Avenue in Morningside. Chuck had a promising career at General Mills and was the father of two young daughters when he was drafted into the Army in 1944. Also, Jane was pregnant. Chuck never saw his son, who was just a few months old when Chuck was killed during the final push into Germany. As a grandfather in his 60s, his son visited Chuck’s grave at a military cemetery in France. He planted a small American flag and gently touched the marker. It was the closest contact he ever had with his father, who had posthumously been awarded the Silver Star for heroism. Albeit symbolic, the Veterans Memorial brings a small part of Chuck Prescott back to Edina.

One would not have to travel to a foreign cemetery to be emotionally impacted at the grave of Harry Davis, who died in 1945 when the B-25 Mitchell bomber he was piloting crashed. Davis, whose daughter was just nine months old when he perished, is buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Minneapolis. Inscribed above the aviator’s wings on his lonely weathered marker is the poignant descriptor “Daddy”. Like Charles Prescott’s son, Harry Davis’s daughter will forever have only an imperfect second-hand knowledge of her father. So will Robert Adams’s son, who was born after his young father perished when his B-24 Liberator bomber went down in 1942.

Some of the patriots, like Frank Ellis, who are remembered by name at the memorial, were already in uniform when war broke out. Many others, like Bruce Randall, answered the call when they were drafted into wartime service. Still others volunteered. Dwaine and Marian Egge’s son Craig was one of those who volunteered. Craig was 22 years old when graduated from St. Olaf during a time of political turmoil brought on by the unpopular war in Vietnam. He was eligible for a medical draft deferment because of a wrestling-related knee injury but chose, instead, to become a Marine. Craig had been in country less than 24 hours when he was killed early on an October morning in 1967, while his unit was defending a vital bridge in South Vietnam’s northernmost province.

Pete Latham is another fallen Marine who is honored at the Veterans Memorial. Pete grew up on Drexel Avenue in the Country Club District. A Yale-educated engineer and Marine Reserve Officer, Pete was working for Amana when he was called to active duty during the Korean War. He and his wife Mary Lou had been married only a year and did not yet have any children when Pete was activated. He was killed in action in June 1951, while leading his platoon on a combat patrol in a mountainous area near the Demilitarized Zone.

Many of the sons of Edina who died serving our country perished in their youth before they had an opportunity to marry and have children. Craig Egge was one of them. Walt Strubel, who grew up on Thielen Avenue, was another. Walt was 19 when he withdrew from the University of Minnesota to join the Army’s elite 10th Mountain Division. The Division’s first combat assignment in Europe was to capture Mount Belvedere, the highest peak in northern Italy’s Apennine Mountains. The key to taking Mount Belvedere was neutralizing German artillery dug in on nearby Riva Ridge. The ridge was only accessible by climbing 1,400-foot sheer cliffs covered with ice and snow. The Germans considered the cliffs impassible. The ski troopers proved them wrong. They took Riva Ridge, and then went on to take Mount Belvedere. The Germans launched seven vigorous, but unsuccessful, counterattacks over the next three days. Clarence and Grace Strubel's only child was just 20 when he died in February 1945 helping sustain the 10th Mountain Division victory on Mount Belvedere. 

Paul and Ruth Christensen and their family lived on Drexel Avenue in the Country Club District, a block down from Paul and Eunice Latham and their children. The Christensen’s son Paul Jr. was only 20 when the dreaded telegram from the War Department arrived in March 1945 regretting to inform them their son had been killed on the battlefield near Worms, Germany. Just three months earlier, Paul had been awarded the Silver Star for his heroic actions during the Battle of the Bulge.

Like Walt Strubel, Dwight "Bud” Williams also left college at 19 to become a ski trooper in the 10th Mountain Division. Bud Williams grew up on Edina Boulevard in the Country Club District, a block over from where Paul Christensen lived on Drexel. Bud entered Harvard after graduating Cum Laude from Blake. He voluntarily withdrew from the safe environment at Harvard after a year to enlist in the wartime Army. After participating in the capture of Mount Belvedere, Bud’s unit moved into the Po River Valley. It was there that Elmer and Margaret Williams’s affable 20-year-old son was killed in action April 30, 1945 – the same day Hitler committed suicide in Berlin. German forces in Italy surrendered the next day.

Walt Strubel, and Paul Christensen, and Bud Williams, and David Peterson will forever be just 20 years old. So will Hal Thorson, who picked his younger brother up in the driveway of their home on Wooddale Avenue before leaving for the war in the Pacific and promised, “I’ll be back soon”. Hal never came back. He died two days before he would have turned 21, when his P-38 Lightning was shot down while attacking a Japanese airfield in the Philippines in February 1945. Henry and Marie Thorson’s young son lies alone in an unmarked grave somewhere beneath a foreign field.

If we could look back in our mind’s eye and imagine all of things that have happened in our lives since we were 20 – then remember how a hundred years from now Hal Thorson, Paul Christensen, Bud Williams, Walt Strubel, and David Peterson will still be almost 21 – it would be understandable how any parent who has brought a son to the crest of youth can still feel the pain of anguished parents like the Thorsons, and Williamses, and Christensens, and Strubels, and Petersons, and others like them who once grievingly hung long-since removed gold stars in their windows.

Lest we forget, and allow time to erode the meaning of their and others’ sacrifices. This is, of course, the essence of the Edina Veterans Memorial and all such memorials – not forgetting: Not forgetting the sacrifices and contributions of the fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, and brothers and sisters who have served over the years to sustain our freedoms – nor the ultimate glory and sacrifice of those who went to war and did not return. Neither should the sacrifices be forgotten of those who waited at home for loved ones.

Thousands of Edina’s sons and daughters have served around the world during times of peace and war. Many of them were veterans who took up residence after having served. According to federal census data, more than 5,000 Edina residents (one in seven adults) are veterans. Factoring in spouses, children, parents, and siblings, as many as eight of ten current Edina households include a veteran, a person only one-step removed from a veteran, or someone currently serving. For this group and many others, the Veterans Memorial is surely an emotional destination. For others, it is a symbol of bestowed civic pride. For all, it is a continuing reminder that freedom is not free.

Remembering the Commitment and Sacrifices of Those Who Serve –
And the Families and Community that Support Them

© 2017 City Of Edina, Minnesota