World War II veterans Oscar Vizcarra (right) and Anna Brown (center) help Lt. Col. Douglas Woodhams, a Marine and Santa Monica Police officer, raise the flag during the 74th annual Memorial Day Observance at the Woodlawn Cemetery earlier this year. (Brandon Wise brandonw@smdp.com)

CITY HALL —  Santa Monicans have worked to pay tribute to their war dead.

The Greek Amphitheater at Santa Monica High School stands in honor of Santa Monicans that served in World War I, and all five branches of the armed forces are remembered by a monument in Palisades Park.

Even the Civil War is represented in a memorial in Woodlawn Cemetery Mortuary and Mausoleum, although Santa Monica wasn’t a city at the time of that conflict.

When City Councilmember Bob Holbrook walked amongst the graves on May 28 in preparation for a speech at the Memorial Day ceremony at Woodlawn, he decided that wasn’t enough.

As he passed the graves, Holbrook wrote down names which he later read aloud before the audience so that people could hear who had fought and died for them.

“I thought there were probably a lot more Santa Monicans who aren’t buried here,” Holbrook said. “I thought it would be nice if we did some kind of listing of their names on a plaque so that all of us could bring flowers to them, or at least never forget them.”

On Aug. 14, the City Council will consider a proposal to create a war memorial honoring the Santa Monicans who died in five wars that have been fought since the city was incorporated in 1887.

The memorial, whatever form it takes, will have at least 97 names, all of which can be credited to the efforts of Ginamarie Vollucci, an intern in the Human Resources Department.

When Holbrook first approached City Manager Rod Gould with the idea, Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek thought she might take on the task herself.

It quickly proved daunting.

“I went to the Department of Veterans Affairs. They told me that I would have to go to every branch of the military,” Polachek said.

Unable to pursue both the project and her daily duties running the city, Polachek asked to borrow Vollucci from Human Resources.

On July 30, Vollucci returned with her final work product — 97 names gathered from a multitude of resources both within and outside of official government databases.

Vollucci started by defining her search. She listed each war that had occurred since 1887 and eliminated those for which no records were available.

That left her with five: World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Gulf War.

She then went to the National Archives and Records Administration, a service of the federal government which provides a searchable database with names of casualties based on the hometown.

The search revealed 37 names from the Korean, Vietnam and Gulf wars.

“World War I and II required more in-depth research,” Vollucci noted in a report to Polachek.

The database had no casualty records for World War I, and the information for the second global conflict was limited to three service branches after a 1973 fire destroyed 80 percent of the Army and Air Force records.

To fill in the gaps, Vollucci got creative.

She used Ancestry.com, a website which includes a search function for military records, and turned up five individuals listed in the U.S. World War II Jewish Servicemen Cards collection.

She also went to the American Battle Monuments Commission, the Department of Defense casualty analysis system and private websites created by former or retired military personnel or veterans’ associations.

In so doing, Vollucci turned up an additional 60 names for the memorial.

The list is not exhaustive, Polachek said, and does not list the dead from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The idea here is that we want to publish this list so people can come forward and make additions,” she said.

It will be up to the City Council to decide if the proposed memorial will leave room for the dead of future wars, Polachek said.

Both she and Holbrook expressed their hope that no names would ever need to be added to the list.

 

ashley@smdp.com

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