Published November 07, 2012
Soundings: Olympia-area women tend to veterans' gravesJOHN DODGE
Some people adopt orphaned children or stray pets or roadways in need of litter pickup. Ann Shipley and seven fellow members of the Sacajawea Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution adopt graves. These Olympia-area women, who can trace family members back to the American Revolutionary War, are caring for the gravesites of 17 military veterans chosen somewhat randomly. It’s a fairly new project that Shipley hopes will grow with time. The adopt-a-veteran’s grave project is based at the Masonic Memorial Park in Tumwater. Founded in 1852 by Olympia Masonic Lodge No. 1, it is the largest cemetery in Thurston County, home to some 15,000 graves, including many notable South Sound pioneers. Shipley knows firsthand it’s also home to many military veterans. She walked the cemetery row by row, making note of every grave that documented it was the final resting place of a veteran. She tallied 1,018. “I was amazed how many vets I found,” Shipley, 68, said. According to her records, more than 600 of the graves represent World War I or World War II veterans, but she found one from the War of 1812, four from the Indian Wars of 1855-56, and 94 who fought in the Civil War. Shipley gleaned the idea for the grave adoption program from an article in the Washington State University Alumni Association magazine, which featured a Belgium couple who adopts and maintains graves of American soldiers who fought the Battle of the Bulge in World War II and were laid to rest in Belgium. It’s not uncommon for Belgium citizens to adopt a grave in a show of appreciation for the role the United States military played in freeing their country from Nazi tyranny. Shipley has adopted seven graves at the Masonic cemetery. That means she cleans the grave stones and places flags and flowers there on their birth and death dates, as well as Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. The DAR participants in the project are motivated by love of country, love of veterans and often in memory of a family member who served in the military, said Della Stenstrom, who chose the grave stone of World War I infantryman Harold D. Sapp. Born Oct. 6, 1890, Sapp was among the first Allied forces to cross the Rhine River into Germany in World War I, according to an inscription on his grave. He survived the war, but at the age of 34 he died, according to his head stone, an accidental death. Stenstrom adopted Sapp’s grave because his World War I experience is markedly similar to that of Stenstrom’s father, George V. Clifford, who participated in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that resulted in some 117,000 American casualties, including 48,909 dead. “My dad never talked about his World War I experiences,” Stenstrom, 77, said. “He was proud to have served, but I don’t think he liked to think about all the horrible devastation he witnessed.” With her father buried in Spokane, it’s not easy to pay her respects in person on Veteran’s Day or his birthday or any other day for that matter. “I’m doing this to honor my dad,” she said. Shipley, a retired secretary at The Evergreen State College, has a hard time verbalizing why she was drawn to the grave adoption program. “It was just a feeling I had that it was something our DAR chapter could do,” she said. “Plus I love the history represented in the graves of veterans.” Shipley showed me some of the seven graves she tends. They are all ready for Veterans Day – on Sunday with the federal holiday on Monday – with their flags and potted pansies. She sought out female and male vets ranging from notable to forgotten. They include: • Margaret Jean Ingram, a World War II Army veteran who worked for the Association of Washington Business in Olympia for several years. She was born in 1924 and died in 1977. • Daniel Campbell, who served in Company M of the First Washington Infantry during the Spanish-American War. He died in the war, and his body was not claimed by any family members. He was buried at the Masonic cemetery in 1899, along with several other unclaimed veterans, following a ceremony in downtown Olympia and a procession up Capitol Way to the cemetery. “We know nothing about him – it’s kind of a shame,” Shipley said. • Marshall Frank Moore, a Civil War veteran, attorney and seventh governor of the Washington Territory from 1867 to 1869. He died Feb. 26, 1870 in Olympia at the age of 41. During the war he served in most of the battles of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman’s Georgia campaign, achieving the rank of brevet major general. Lettie Arnold, general manager of the Masonic Memorial Park, estimated that about half of the graves in the cemetery are unattended by family or otherwise. She appreciates what the DAR members do in memory of the veterans buried there. It’s also a chance to highlight to the public some of the community service work of the local DAR chapter, which includes restoration of historic monuments, working at the Thurston County Food Bank and promoting literacy programs, Shipley said. “A lot of people think we’re a bunch of old ladies sitting around, sipping tea,” she said. Let the record show: That’s simply not the case.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444