Just north of the Murrow School of Communication at the heart of Washington State University is a structure whose physical size pales in comparison to others, but the stories contained within its walls, and their meaning, cast a shadow larger than any building on campus could.
The structure is the Washington State University Veterans Memorial. The memorial displays the names of the Washington State alumni who gave their lives in World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Persian Gulf, and the ongoing Global War on Terrorism.
The motivation for the creation of the memorial came from the story of an individual who fought in two wars, but whose narrative, and those of his comrades, became overlooked by the emotions stemming from another war.
Dedicated in 1993 and rededicated when it was completed in 2000, the memorial is the brainchild of C. James Quann, veteran of the Korean War, former WSU Registrar, and author of the book “WSU Military Veterans: Heroes and Legends.”
Quann worked 25 years as the University Registrar at Washington State, including four years as Associate Registrar. He currently holds the title of WSU Registrar Emeritus and Coordinator, Veterans’ Research.
As a freshman arriving at Washington State College in 1950 (the school would become Washington State University in 1959), Quann and his classmates were told of the exploits of Ace Allen, who graduated just a few month prior to Quann’s arrival on campus.
Allen served two and a half years in the Air Force during World War II, attended WSC under the GI Bill, and upon graduation, returned to the front line in Korea. It was there he was killed in action on Aug. 9, 1950, just two months following his commencement from WSC.
Quann, who served in Korea as a First Lieutenant in the Army after gradating from WSC, came back to Washington State in 1966 as a member of the registrar’s staff and became registrar in 1970.
His return to WSU occurred at the height of the Vietnam War.
“The public was investing a great deal of interest and emotion in the Vietnam War issue, and the media was constantly making comparisons between World War II and Vietnam,” Quann wrote in his account of the history of the memorial. “The Korean War and its veterans seemed to have been forgotten.”
Quann decided that something should be done to honor Washington State’s Korean War veterans who gave their lives in the conflict. He began to conduct research to find information on Ace Allen and anybody else from the Korean War.
Quann beside the World War I memorial at WSU
Initially, Quann found little on the Korean War, but he did find information regarding World War II that caught his attention.
“In the library archives I ran across about 200 letters written by President Holland to the families of the students killed in World War II,” Quann said. “In those letters he promised them a memorial will be built on campus with their names inscribed thereon.
“It never happened and nobody knew why,” Quann added. “I thought we should honor the promise that President Holland had made by building the memorial, but also include Korea and Vietnam.”
After receiving the go ahead, Quann formed a committee comprised of students, faculty, and staff representing World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The committee was officially appointed, and the process of creating the memorial had begun.
In its initial planning, the committee had to consider several issues: where to build the memorial, what design should it take, the hours that needed to be invested in researching and obtaining documentation on those killed or missing in action in the various wars, and to raise funds to build it since state funds could not be used on the project.
In 1987, a location at the center of campus in an area bounded by Bryan Hall, Avery Hall, Stevens Hall, Thompson Hall, and the Murrow Center was chosen as site for the memorial in what Quann describes as a “treasured spot right in the middle of campus.”
That same year, a national search was held to seek a proper design for the memorial. Quann describes in his writings that the parameters for any design firm to consider were: the design must be contemplative in nature, as in the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C.; the memorial must be timeless because its purpose is to honor veterans of at least three eras; the memorial should capture the eternal spirit of patriotism and the defense of freedom, and the design must include the capability to individually recognize the over 250 who made the supreme sacrifice.
The design that was decided upon was two-fold in nature. One component was the creation of a diagonal “Veterans’ Walk” pathway leading from Stevens Hall to Bryan Hall where it joins “Hello Walk.”
The memorial itself went through a number of redesigns before culminating to what now exists. At its center is a large brass core engraved with the names of the Washington State students, faculty, and staff who lost their lives in World War II, and the Korea, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars.
In addition, above the benches surrounding the core are plaques that have the names engraved of those same individuals. In 2006, a plaque that contains the names of those who lost their lives in the current global war on terrorism was added.
A brass plaque commemorates fallen WSU soldiers
A plaque, a gift from the class of 1920, honoring the Washington State students who fell in World War I was already being displayed in Bryan Hall. When the Veterans Memorial was created, it was decided to move the plaque from Bryan and placed it within the memorial. The plaque is placed on a pedestal at the north side of the structure.
The original design also called for a second pathway to branch off from the center of Veterans’ Walk and curve down to the memorial. As Quann writes, this walk would symbolize that although all of the WSU community took the diagonal path from time to time, some of our colleagues – students, faculty, and staff – took a much different path, and some ultimately gave their lives for our freedom.
The concept of the path originating out of Veterans’ Walk was revised to a pathway leading to and from the Memorial on both its north and south sides.
In 1990, Quann took a position at the University of California at Santa Cruz but he still kept in touch on the progression of the memorial.
Although funding did not allow the construction of all components of the memorial, the primary portion of it was dedicated on Veterans Day, 1993.
In 1996, then President Sam Smith renamed the street bordering the memorial “Veterans’ Way.” Three years later, the class of 1949, to help commemorate their 50th anniversary, began a campaign to complete the memorial. Through their efforts, the finished memorial was rededicated on October 7, 2000.
While one memorial was completed, it was during this time that Quann was working on another big project, another memorial of sorts, whose inspiration came while Quann was at Santa Cruz.
“I had an experience in June of 1994 on the campus of Santa Cruz that got me to thinking of what later became my book,” Quann said. “It was the 50th anniversary of D-Day and I had an opportunity to talk with a number of students one-on-one and I asked them ‘What do you think?’ ”
The answers Quann received, or the lack of one, were striking to him.
“No. 1, they didn’t know anything about it. No. 2, they didn’t care and No. 3, they wish it would get off the air so they could watch other TV programs,” he said. “It dawned on me that there was a tremendous lack of knowledge about World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.”
When Quann returned to WSU in 1996 to take an appointment as registrar emeritus and coordinator of veterans’ research, he would spend nearly the next decade conducting research for his book, which became a compilation of stories from Washington State College/University students, faculty and staff from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf conflicts.
“I was concerned I might not do justice to the memory of these heroes,” Quann said. “Every time I came away from an interview I would come back with two or three more names I didn’t know about. The project kept getting bigger.”
What originally was thought to be a two-year project turned into one that lasted a decade. The result is the book WSU Military Veterans: Heroes and Legends.
With his book and the founding of the memorial, Quann has left a lasting legacy to WSU.
And through their stories, a legacy is exactly what the individuals behind the memorial’s names have given to Washington State University, and to their country.