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March 3, 2024

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Camas restores monument for 22 mill workers killed in WWII

City returns plaque to original glory after daughter of honoree decries its condition

By , Columbian Staff Writer
7 Photos
Ryan Hickey, operations specialist with the city of Camas, shows where damage had previously been located on a memorial for Camas mill workers who died serving in World War II.
Ryan Hickey, operations specialist with the city of Camas, shows where damage had previously been located on a memorial for Camas mill workers who died serving in World War II. Nathan Howard/The Columbian Photo Gallery

CAMAS — The last time Linda Chauvin saw her father was in 1944 when she was 3 years old and he was about to set off to fly in World War II.

Eugene Shauvin never made it home, as his C-47 Skytrain carrying pathfinder paratroopers was shot down on Sept. 17, 1944, near a home in Retie, Belgium. He was 25 at the time. Despite a few excavation efforts, Shauvin’s body still hasn’t been found, 75 years later. But Chauvin, now 78, and her mother, Phyllis Burrows of Vancouver, recently received some closure closer to home.

A monument honoring Shauvin and the 21 other Camas paper mill employees killed in World War II was dedicated by the Crown Zellerbach Corporation on Aug. 18, 1947, across from the mill at the corner of Northwest Sixth Avenue and Division Street in Camas. After decades of wear, the city and the mill recently worked together to clean the monument and make it look new.

“It was disgraceful the shape it was in,” Chauvin said. “I wrote to (City Administrator) Pete (Capell), and he got on top of it right away. He and the city really stepped up to help us.”

The monument, which sits a few feet from the street and can be hard to spot, was showing its age, and the bronze plaque on the monument was nearly illegible.

“It seemed so far out of reach,” said Burrows, who turned 97 on Monday. “I was insulted because of that. It just felt like nobody in town cared. I went once in the late 50s and haven’t been back.”

After Capell talked to Chauvin, he reached out to a few local companies to see if anyone could clean it up. He got instructions from a bronze company in Portland and handed them off to Ryan Hickey, facilities supervisor with Camas, who spent more than two days working to clean the plaque.

Hickey started by cleaning all the bronze with degreaser and cleanser. He used a hand wire brush and wire wheel to dig into each crevice of the intricate monument, which features carved depictions of soldiers, a bird and flowers. He painted the entire plaque black with a few coats of paint, and then use a light sandpaper to clear the paint from each letter.

Hickey said it was a fairly unusual few days of work; his job normally entails such things as roofing repairs, plumbing and installing security cameras. Capell said he would see the plaque frequently while walking to work, but wasn’t sure if the bronze was salvageable.

“When somebody has a problem, if there’s a way to fix it, we want do whatever we can to make it better,” Capell said. “Sometimes we do more than people might have expected.”

Chauvin is thrilled with the new look of the monument, and she was surprised by how quickly the city took action. She was in town recently from Virginia and stopped by one night to take a look. She said she’s hopeful it can be moved to an area where it’s more visible. Since it’s on mill-owned property, Capell said, it’s not up to the city to decide. He recently proposed the idea to the mill and was told it was being taken under consideration.

The search for Shauvin

Chauvin has been to Belgium twice in the last two decades in order to search for her father’s body. She started researching her father and others who were shot down with him. She presented her case to the U.S. Army Central Identification Laboratory in Hawaii and had enough compelling evidence to warrant an excavation of the site in 2003. Debris from his plane was found, but not Shauvin.

On another trip, Chauvin and Burrows attended the dedication of a monument in Belgium for those who were shot down in the town. She said the people there were grateful for her father’s service, and they even met the family who lives in the house near where Shauvin’s airplane came down.

“These people are like family to us now,” Chauvin said. “They’ve come to visit us here in America.”

Another excavation is planned for 2020, said Chauvin, who said she feels there was more area to search for her father’s body than what was searched in 2003.

Burrows said it would give her some closure to know that her high school sweetheart’s body had been found. She remembers the first time she saw him: He walked into one of her classes to hand some papers to the teacher, and Burrows turned around to the girl behind her to ask who that was. They agreed that he was quite the looker. Burrows officially met him later that year in the hallway, and they married in Camas in 1940.

“He was a good looking man when he was younger,” she said. “He didn’t get very old, though. It’s just terrible.”

Shauvin was the only person shot down in that area whose body hasn’t been recovered. He was one of eight brothers, six of whom served in World War II. He was the only of his siblings to not make it home.

Chauvin is hopeful they’ll find her father’s body in Belgium. Even though she didn’t get as much time with him as she would’ve liked, she keeps his memory alive through her research. She currently lives in Charlottesville, Va., which is most well known recently for the August 2017 death of Heather Heyer, who was killed when a motorist drove a car into a crowd protesting a white nationalist rally.

Chauvin was there protesting that day and was near the scene where the car drove into Heyer and others.

“Because of my father and what he was fighting for, I felt like I had to go out there,” she said. “He would’ve wanted me to.”

Columbian Staff Writer