Off beat: Former first lady’s recent visit not her first link to Vancouver

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When Gen. Daniel York took command of the 104th Division at Vancouver Barracks in 2008, he mentioned some unit history involving a former first family.

Laura Bush is a “Timberwolf pup,’’ York said.

The division is nicknamed the Timberwolves, and Bush’s father was in the 104th during World War II.

Harold Welch received a Silver Star for gallantry in action.

There’s been some organizational churn since then. The current edition of the 104th came here in 1961 as a reserve division and recently moved to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

While Welch wasn’t based in Vancouver, his daughter visited last week to help raise money for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library Foundation.

A former librarian, Bush is the author of “Spoken From the Heart.” In addition to a look at life inside the White House, her memoir includes details of some of her father’s WWII service. She writes about peering at tiny photographs he brought back from Nordhausen, Germany, where the 104th liberated Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp.

One image showed row upon row of bodies, some little more than skin-covered skeletons. Another showed the body of a child seemingly reaching out to comfort a dead baby.

She and her parents would look at the photos every year or two, Bush wrote, but her father couldn’t bring himself to say a single word about what he saw.

Changing world

This month’s Pearl Harbor observance at Vancouver Barracks included a video presentation by a U.S. Navy recruiter with archival photographs of the attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

There were images of attacking Japanese planes and devastated U.S. ships.

There also was a reminder of how things have changed. Before the video started, a corporate name flashed in the lower corner of the screen: Mitsubishi. The industrial giant made some of those Japanese warplanes seen in the film.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, one of the keynote speakers, was asked to consider that turn of events. In an e-mail, he offered some thoughts:

“Largely due to the values and ideals of the Greatest Generation, we now embrace those who we were once at odds with. Both our countries recognize that differences, even such differences that led to war and the tragic loss of life, can be resolved, learned from and set aside for the betterment of our peoples, our nations and the entire world.”

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.