Veterans put personal mark on dedication of VFW plaza

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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Like many veterans, Gary Barker was glad for a chance to add his name to a list of local service personnel who fought overseas.

"This is the wall I want my name on. I have friends on the other wall," Barker said, referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The black granite wall in Washington, D.C., lists more than 58,000 military personnel who died in the Vietnam War.

"I'm thankful my name isn't there," the former Marine said just before a Friday morning ceremony in downtown Vancouver.

The ceremony marked the dedication of the VFW Memorial Plaza, a tribute to all military personnel who have served in foreign wars.

Those who turned out represented 75 years of American history, from World War II veterans who enlisted before Pearl Harbor to more recent service personnel who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The plaza project, which includes a granite monument and a flagpole, resulted from a partnership among local veterans and the city of Vancouver. The plaza is on the corner of Columbia Street and Phil Arnold Way, just southeast of City Hall.

The memorial plaza shares its location with the "Remembrance Wall," a gallery of military themed images created by the Clark County Mural Society.

As part of Friday's dedication, people had a chance to note their own military service, or to honor the service of family members, by signing their names on a mural panel.

Family tributes

For some, it was a family tribute.

George Winslow wrote in his 23 years of service in the Marines and Air Force Reserves, then continued to write. The Portland resident listed three uncles who were in World War II: Capt. Joe Brennfleck, who landed on Okinawa; Sgt. Carl Brennfleck, who fought in North Africa; and Chief Petty Officer George Brennfleck, who was on the aircraft carrier USS Wasp.

Sean Crotty, accompanied by grandmother Delores Lowry, also was part of a multigenerational panel.

As one of the younger participants, Crotty had no problems climbing a ladder to note his service in Iraq on one of the top rows. Then the Vancouver resident added the names of two grandfathers who fought overseas: John Crotty, who served in Korea, and Howard Lowry, a WWII veteran.

Crotty said he was proud to have his family represented — and to be part of a military tradition represented by all the other veterans who attended Friday's event.

"It's an honor to be seen with these gentlemen who fought in wars before me," Crotty said.

The panels signed Friday will be sealed to protect the names from vandalism, said Jerry Rolling, co-founder of the Clark County Mural Society.

Veterans who want to add their names, or family members of those who have served, should contact Rolling at jerry@rollingshomes.com.

If they include name, years of birth and death (if needed), military branch and conflict, the mural society can add the tribute.

If someone wants to personally sign the panel — "Maybe it means more if they do it," Rolling said — the mural society will try to schedule an opportunity.

Tom Vogt: 360-735-4558; http://twitter.com/col_history; tom.vogt@columbian.com.