Memorial Day a time for remembering all who have served

Memorial Day a time for remembering all who have served

On Monday, we observe Memorial Day, a holiday unfortunately enjoyed more for being a day off work than for its intended purpose.

The holiday – whose roots go back to the years after the Civil War – remembers those who have served in the nation’s wars, and in particular those who have fallen in battle.

In this context, I want to look at the lives of two soldiers with ties to the Inland Valley. The achievements of one have been mostly lost in the passage of time, while the other is lovingly remembered by his granddaughter.

Our long-forgotten soldier was Converse Howe, a respected Pomona businessman with an odd name. He died in August 1891 due in part to failing health from illness contracted in the Civil War.

His life experience was rather remarkable. Born in Ohio in 1838, the 15-year-old Howe and his mother sailed to California to follow his father, who came here as one of the early Gold rush ’49ers.

The younger Howe became a clerk in Sacramento and jumped into the middle of politics. at age 18, he was sergeant-at-arms of the Republican state convention.

With the Civil War under way, he made the life-changing decision in 1864 to make the arduous trek to the East Coast where he joined the 15th Connecticut Infantry.

His war record was hardly that of legend – he was stricken with yellow fever in North Carolina and after recovering was captured and spent the last months of the war in a Confederate prison in Richmond, Va.

Howe later made his way back to California, took up teaching and finally opened a dry goods store about 1882 in the new community of Pomona. He served on the city Board of Trade (the early Chamber of Commerce) and spent many years on the school board.

As testament to his character, he was elected as auditor for Los Angeles County, a position he held on the day he died, Aug. 18, 1891.

Flags were at half-staff for a month throughout the county in his memory. His tombstone in Pomona Cemetery remains today as the only visible hint of this man’s life.

Now we turn the pages to many years into the future – in fact, to only two weeks ago on Monday.

On may 7, four eighth-grade students from Western Christian School in Claremont stood at one of the most sacred sites in Washington, D.C., the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The four placed a wreath there, a ceremony conducted each year by the students who attend the school’s annual trip.

But for Haley Scott, 14, of Upland, the exercise had a deeper meaning.

She and the other three were selected to lay the wreath on the basis of essays they had written.

For Haley, her essay remembered her late grandfather, Tony Goodman Jr., who served in the Navy during the 1950s. Coincidentally, the ceremony was five years to the day since his death.

But Haley’s essay also gave her a chance to recall her Native American heritage as part of the Choctaw tribe whose members played a little- known role in the military.

“It was a way to honor my Choctaw ancestors who have never gotten the recognition when they served in the military, both in World War I and II,” she said.

The Choctaws were one of the first Native Americans to became codetalkers – soldiers who spoke in their native language to throw off the enemy listening to radio messages or on telephone lines.

She noted in her essay that the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma has asked Congress for recognition of the efforts of the Choctaws and members of all tribes who used their language skills to confuse the enemy during both world wars.

“I got a chance to honor my grandfather and our Choctaw ancestors who have not gotten the recognition they deserve,” she said.

“It was a really exciting experience for me, something special that I’ll probably never have the chance to do ever again.”

On Monday, we all should honor Converse Howe and Tony Goodman Jr., and the Native American codetalkers and the memory of every man and woman who has given up part of their life to put on a uniform. We should especially remember it as a time to appreciate those who died while in that uniform.

So when you see a man or woman in a military uniform, or any veteran, go up to them, shake their hand and thank them for their service.

Do it Monday – and every other day, for that matter.

Joe Blackstock writes on Inland Valley history. He can be reached at 909-483-9382, email at joe.blackstock@inlandnewspapers.com or Twitter at @JoeBlackstock.

Memorial Day a time for remembering all who have served


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