Diligence gave WWII soldier place on monument

He’s among latest names added to county war memorial

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

Published:

 

The last five names inscribed on the Clark County Veterans War Memorial include servicemen who died almost 67 years apart.

Two soldiers and a Marine who died in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan will be honored at today’s 11 a.m. Memorial Day observance in Vancouver Barracks.

But there’s also room on the memorial for forgotten heroes like Lt. John Mulder. His name was added to the memorial a year ago, along with that of Army Pfc. Christopher Ian Walz, who was killed in Afghanistan on Oct. 27, 2009.

If you go

• What: Memorial Day ceremony.

• When: 11 a.m. Monday.

• Where: Clark County Veterans War Memorial, Vancouver Barracks.

And Mulder? He was killed in Germany in 1944.

Two issues kept Mulder’s name off the war memorial for decades. The monument honors service members who have lived in Clark County and who died during a war, said Chuck Jones, co-chair of the Veterans War Memorial Committee.

IN MEMORIAM

• Marine Sgt. Jason D. Peto, 31, Vancouver, died Dec. 7, 2010, after being wounded in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

• Army Chief Warrant Officer Jonah D. McClellan, 26, Battle Ground, died Sept. 21, 2010, in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan.

• Army Sgt. Earl D. Werner, 38, Clark County, killed Aug. 28, 2009 in Iraq by a roadside bomb.

Lt. Mulder was originally overlooked because Army records indicated he was an Oregon resident. And, his date of death was listed as Nov. 24, 1945 — six months after the war in Europe ended. Either factor would have kept him off the memorial.

But three Clark County men helped prove Mulder’s local roots, and also established his role in a World War II battle just before he was reported as missing in action.

Joe Schlecht was a friend of Mulder’s 70 years ago. A few years ago, Schlecht was talking to another friend, John Crowley, about how Mulder deserved a spot on the county’s war memorial.

“I did some research,” Crowley said, and he forwarded the information to a local veteran with national connections — Richard Landis, who once was in charge of the U.S. Army’s Casualty Operations Center.

Some of the information was in Crowley’s 1946 Vancouver High School yearbook, where Mulder was listed among 57 former VHS students who gave their lives in the war.

“He married a girl from Oregon, and when he went into the Army, that what was listed as his hometown,” Crowley said.

Landis was able to clear up the other issue, Mulder’s listed date of death six months after the war in Europe ended.

“I had my office get in touch with the Military Monuments Commission, which is in charge of overseas cemeteries,” Landis said.

“Mulder went missing in November 1944,” Landis said. “There were no remains, and a determination of death was issued a year later.” Which was in November 1945.

They also helped advance Mulder’s cause with a history of the Army’s 405th Infantry Regiment that recounted combat in Germany in November 1944.

When U.S. troops were pinned down by a machine gun, Lt. Mulder tried to order mortar fire on the German position. But American tanks had rolled over the telephone wire, cutting Mulder’s link with his mortar squad.

So Mulder ran about 100 yards back to the tanks, and had one of the gun crews blow up the German machine gun.

Mulder is one of 593 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines listed on the monument. The list starts with 27 men who died during the Spanish-American War in 1898. There are 83 names in the section for World War I fatalities; 384 service personnel died during World War II.

There are the names of 21 men who died during the Korean War, and 63 who died during the Vietnam War.

That was where things stood back in 1995, when Jones and fellow committee members made plans to replace the outdated war memorial on the steps of the Clark County Courthouse, which had been unveiled on Nov. 11, 1947.

They had two options for the new memorial, Jones said — medium or large.

“We went with large.”

Since the memorial was dedicated on Nov. 11, 1998, they’ve added 15 names as a result of the global war on terrorism, bringing the total to 593.

When the memorial was created back in 1998, Jones said, the thinking was: “We can dedicate it and hope there are no new names.

“But,” Jones said, “you never know.”

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558 or tom.vogt@columbian.com.