WOODLAWN CEMETERY — Next month, City Hall will inscribe more than 100 names onto the six plinths that make up the Woodlawn Commemorative Wall.
The plinths, which will be installed at Woodlawn Cemetery, represent each conflict in which at least one Santa Monican was killed. The names are of those who died in the conflicts.
Only their names will appear — there won’t be any accompanying explanation of their heroics — but for those tasked with finding the names each one is a story.
In memory of Clarence Miller, the memorial wall will state only “Clarence Miller.” But the name-searchers know him as Clarence Miller, the chief electrician’s mate who received the Purple Heart after his ship sunk following an air attack on Feb. 4,1945.
They know that Sgt. Francis Burns was taken prisoner of war while fighting the enemy in South Korea. He was forced to march to North Korea where he died in prison a month later.
Lt. Benjamin William Davis, they learned, was only 25-years-old when he died of multiple injuries in 1943.
“They all had these stories,” said Woodlawn Cemetery Administrator Cindy Tomlinson. “They gave their lives. I did keep notes because, I don’t know why, for some reason I thought it would be important to do so.”
The memorial is the brainchild of Councilman Bob Holbrook who, after last Memorial Day, suggested that City Hall should erect a simple memorial in honor of fallen soldiers. The concept was easy enough but fires, repatriation, and the passage of time have made finding some names harder than anticipated.
First up was an intern in the City Manager’s Office, Ginamarie Vollucci, who tracked down 97 Santa Monican casualties through a series of online databases. She discovered that about 80 percent of World War II Army and Army Air Force records at the National Personnel Records Center were destroyed in a 1973 fire.
City Hall then released the list of names — allowing the public to submit any oversights — and gave the Woodlawn Cemetery staff a crack at tracking down more fallen soldiers.
The cemetery has a list of about 300 soldiers buried there, said Tomlinson. Initially, Tomlinson and her staff checked only the veterans buried during the years of the major conflicts and wars.
“We spent a couple days going through all these names and we were just blown away by all the stories,” she said.
Then everyone learned about Joe Gandara.
Gandara was killed in action in 1944 in Amferville, France. He was 20 years old, born in Santa Monica. After his heroic death he was passed over for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest commendation for combat valor, because of his Mexican heritage.
President Barack Obama corrected the error in March, awarding the medal to 24 soldiers, including Gandara.
“Actually, especially with Joe, when I read his story of his heroics, it was awesome,” Tomlinson said. “He wasn’t on our list and that concerned me. We went backwards and found that he’d been repatriated.”
Repatriation, in this case, refers to fallen soldiers who were removed from their original burial sites and returned home.
“They were in France for a while,” she said. “So they fell outside of those dates that we originally checked. They were interred maybe two years later after the war. That’s why we went through and checked every one.”
Thanks to Gandara’s belated Medal of Honor, they found about a dozen more names of fallen soldiers who were interred after the war, Tomlinson said.
City officials recognize that names will need to be added to the wall after its unveiling on Memorial Day. Overlooked fallen Santa Monicans will be rediscovered. Other Santa Monicans will die.
“We know this is going to be somewhat dynamic because we keep finding new names and getting new names,” said Assistant City Manager Elaine Polachek. “It’s all additive to the process.”
Currently, the list is 127 names long.
If you have a name you would like to submit fitting the criteria for inclusion on the Commemorative Wall, e-mail the name of the veteran, branch of service, date of death, and any other pertinent information to: Woodlawn.firstname.lastname@example.org