The Montrose WWII Honor Roll
Last week’s CV Weekly carried the story of the War Memorial Wall being established at Two Strike Park thanks to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. It’s not the first tribute to our servicemen established in the valley. We’re all aware of the Vietnam War Memorial in Montrose, which carries the distinction of being the first Vietnam War Memorial in California, having been dedicated in 1968. But there was another plaque in Montrose which is long since forgotten, a service roll listing all valley residents serving in WWII, over 1,500 names, with special honor being shown to those that had given their lives.
The large board was, as far as we can tell, mounted on the outside wall of Valley Pharmacy. Today that would be the FroYo frozen yogurt shop on the corner of Ocean View and Honolulu, and the wall would have been the one facing Ocean View, north of the store’s entrance. The one photo we have of it shows four large boards, each approximately four feet square, mounted at sidewalk level and apparently covered by glass. The individual six-inch wide name plaques look to be movable on a peg-board setup. Above the name boards was a huge bas-relief eagle with a banner behind lettered “Crescenta-Canada Service Roll”.
The service roll, funded by proceeds from scrap metal drives, was dedicated on July 30, 1944 in a spectacular ceremony. The whole community turned out as Ocean View was blocked off and a stage was erected. At 3:30 p.m., the veterans from the American Legion and VFW marched into position in front of the honor roll, led by their drum and bugle corps. Their color guard in vintage WWI uniforms, were positioned on the roof above the honor roll. The local paper described the audience reaction in unabashedly emotional terms: “As they approach the stage the import of the moment strikes the assembled crowd like a physical blow and their reaction is audible like unto a tear-smothered gasp. A young mother, wife of a soldier on the service roll, clasps her baby close to her and her prayer echoes the words in every heart. ‘Oh God, not in another twenty-five years!’”
Opening prayers were handled by Father Healy from Holy Redeemer, then on to the requisite speeches from the politicians of the day, followed by the unveiling of the plaque. Doing that honor was a representative from each of the women’s services – WAC’s, WAVES’s, SPAR’s (Coast Guard), Marine Corps, and Civilian Defense.
After the unveiling of the over 1500 names, the “Gold Stars” (men killed in action) were honored with a reading of names and a volley of rifle shots. At that time there were 13 Gold Star names, including Robert Cobery, brother of local historian and author Art Cobery, shot down over China in a B24, and Charles and Leland Zwick, two Montrose boys who died a month apart while training Air Corps pilots. (The Zwick Brothers have their own memorial at Zwick Plaza in Montrose.) Mentioned too were four local men missing in action, all of who were later reclassified as killed in action.
The ceremony then went upbeat as film star Anita Louise (“Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “The Story of Louis Pasteur”) introduced several local musicians, including Montrose’s own Ralph Thomas on accordion, and a rousing competition between the Kiwanis and Rotary choruses. Local war hero Capt. Charles Tucker, who scored four kills with General Chennault and the Flying Tigers, gave a patriotic speech and urged the crowd to buy war bonds. As an aside, Tucker later became a test pilot, most famously in the Northrop flying wing.
Despite the celebratory patriotism, it was a hard time for the valley, as “Gold Stars” continued to be added to the honor roll. Just seven months later the number of local boys killed in the war had doubled. No one seems to know what happened to the honor roll, but apparently at war’s end it was quietly retired. It’s wonderful to realize that those Gold Star boys will be recognized again when the Two Strike Memorial is in place.