Terry McLaughlin: In honor of those who served
In the year 2000, Charlie McLaughlin was visiting Grass Valley’s Sierra College Campus when he noticed something that sparked his imagination.
Perhaps it was the curved stone wall along the drive up the hill to the campus or a particular stone plaque in front of one of the buildings. While we will never know exactly what it was, we do know that it was that small kernel of an idea that led to the birth of the worthy tribute to our veterans that is often referred to as “the wall” in Grass Valley’s Memorial Park.
In December of 2000 former U.S. Marine Charles J. McLaughlin went before Detachment #885 of the Marine Corps League to propose that the organization build a memorial wall to honor American and allied veterans and servicemen and women from all wars, both living and dead. He proposed that the wall be covered with marble plaques listing the serviceman or woman’s name, branch of service, and the dates they served.
The Marine Corps League voted to go ahead with this project with the understanding that it was not a fundraiser to profit the league, but rather a monument to honor our veterans. A donation of $50 was suggested for each plaque to cover the cost of the construction of the wall and fabrication of the individual plaques.
This project received enthusiastic support from members of the Marine Corps League, as well as from Grass Valley’s Cousin Jack’s Lions Club (who built the walkway in front of the wall), the city of Grass Valley, the county, and many local contractors and businessmen. County Assessor Sue Horne, who was at that time on the Board of Supervisors, was of particular assistance navigating the county’s regulatory system.
With Charlie McLaughlin, a sea-going Marine veteran who served during the Korean War, spearheading the project, a Memorial Wall Committee was formed. The committee consisted of other local former Marines — Orlo K. Steele, James “Bill” McNamee, David Gray, Robert Barker, Burt Duer, Rudy Kutchar, and Wayne Tubbs. Jimmy Espinosa (U.S. Navy) was also intricately involved in the planning of this project, and served as construction supervisor. Unfortunately for our community, many of these dedicated initial workers have since passed away.
With the goal of a dedication ceremony on Memorial Day 2002, the committee and their volunteers got to work. A brochure was created with the theme “Remembering Those Who Served” and community members were solicited for donations-in-kind. Many of the generous major donors are still active in Nevada County such as B&C Home &Garden Center, Diamond Pacific Lumber Company, Hansen Brothers Enterprises, NorCal Electric, and Hills Flat Lumber, to name just a very few.
Requests for plaques and donations began arriving in Charlie’s mail, and after the attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, the requests began flooding in at an accelerated pace. Many people simply wanted to make a donation to assist the league in their efforts. Some families wanted to purchase as many as 11 plaques for multiple generations of family members who had served in the armed forces. Many of these requests came with heartfelt notes and letters about a fallen family member, or copies of discharge papers, or certificates of death. These stories prodded the volunteers to give generously of their time and energy, and at 10 a.m. on the morning of Memorial Day 2002 their efforts culminated with the dedication in Grass Valley’s Memorial Park of two gray-granite walls bearing the names of 984 men and women who served in 20th century conflicts. Retired Marine Corps General O.K. Steele served as the guest speaker.
After the dedication, many more letters of thanks and appreciation were received. One woman who attended the ceremony wrote “My mother said this morning that my Dad always wanted Taps played at his funeral. It never happened, but now she can rest easy, because it was played for him, as well as the others.”
After the first two walls were built, Marine Corps League members quickly realized that the demand for the granite plaques far outstripped the space available, and plans for a third wall began. These efforts culminated with another dedication on Veteran’s Day, 2003.
“We want people to see these names”, said Charlie McLaughlin. “After all, this is Memorial Park.”
I am proud to say that Charlie was my father-in-law. He was a force of nature, with a personality as big as a house. Our family suffered his loss in 2007, but his legacy continues on through his children (U.S. Marine Corps), his grandchildren (U.S. Navy), and the Veteran’s Memorial Wall, a project which he envisioned and to which he was so dedicated.
He would be immensely pleased to know that there are plans for two additional walls to be added in the park and another generation of veterans to be honored.
If you would like to find out how you could help, please contact John Bynes at 530-265-0525. If you wish to make a donation to further this worthy project, make your check payable to MCL 885, and mail to the Marine Corps League #885, 578 Sutton Way PMB 375, Grass Valley, CA 95945. Indicate “Memorial Wall Fund” on your check.
If you have never visited the wall, treat yourself to a visit, just off Colfax Avenue in Grass Valley. Bring a picnic and spend some time remembering our veterans in beautiful Memorial Park!
Terry McLaughlin, who lives in Nevada City, writes a twice monthly column for The Union. Write to her at email@example.com.
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