WWII hospital ties evoke memories of loved ones


How amazing are the threads of life in the valley that connect us? A recent column item on Bruce McCaw of Touchet’s family ties to Brig. Gen. Walter Drew McCaw for whom the World War II-era McCaw Hospital in Walla Walla was named offers another connection through Walla Wallan Susan Queen.

“My aunt and uncle Darl Sawyer and Arnold Leander “ Lee” Bjorklund are mentioned in the paragraph telling of the number of weddings (at the military hospital),” she said. Susan’s mother June Sawyer Timmons and June’s younger sister Darl visited their brother, Leo, also a patient at the military hospital when Lee was being treated.

Leo, recovering from double pneumonia, and Lee became good friends as they recuperated. When feeling well enough to use weekend passes, they went to Susan’s grandparents’ Walla Walla home. Thus the war-time romance between Darl and Lee began. “I’m old enough to remember those years,” Susan emailed.

After Darl and Arnold died, their daughter brought Susan a treasure-trove of photos, letters, documents, awards including Lee’s Medal of Honor, an invitation to meet President John F. Kennedy and newspaper articles about his military service.

Susan arranged everything in chronological order, put them in clear-sheet protectors in a binder for her cousin and made photo copies for eight other family members.

“The binders joined the many books of genealogy I’ve printed for myself and 13 family members,” Susan said.

She said Darl and Lee recalled with great fondness being flown to Washington, D.C., in May 1963 as guests of President Kennedy. Unbeknownst to any of them was that Kennedy would die by an assassin’s bullet on Nov. 22, 1963.

On the special Air Force C54 were four Medal of Honor recipients and three wives from Oregon, and 10 Medal of Honor recipients and eight wives from Washington, Susan said. Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy greeted 234 Medal of Honor recipients and wives at the White House reception in the Rose Garden The event was televised in Seattle.

“Among the many newspaper articles is a large U-B story dated Oct. 22, 1944, titled Recon Camp Is Helping Group. ‘McCaw General Hospital’s reconditioning camp, high in the Blue Mountains, is designed to make a perfect physical specimen of a returned wounded soldier or soldier taken ill in the United States ... The commanding officer at Tollgate who is a patient, is Lt. Arnold Bjorklund, an officer who recently was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Roosevelt.’ ”

The story describes the camp grounds, buildings, weather, daily schedule, weekend passes and much more, Susan said. With the passes the men could visit nearby towns. Neighbors and townspeople provided various activities free of charge to the men.

Another article Susan found is about the Nov. 28, 1942, fire at the Cocoanut Grove, a popular Boston nightspot. While in the Army, Lee took a date to the nightclub. The fire started when a 16-year-old busboy struck a match near an imitation palm tree for illumination to replace a light bulb in the basement cocktail lounge.

Within 12 minutes, the building was engulfed. Of the 1,000 people, 492 died and more than 200 were injured. Lee survived with singed eyebrows and lashes and his date lost her fur coat, Susan said.

Leo had been a member of Sigma Chi and on the Whitman College football squad in 1941. He had 130 hours flying time to his credit when he enrolled in Whitman’s summer Civilian Pilot Training course.

He passed the exam and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in September 1942. He trained as a fighter and bomber pilot, received his wings and was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant in Yuma, Ariz.

“An outstanding pilot, he was kept stateside to train other fighter pilots. He also flew the California coast looking for submarines. After the war, he was a freight pilot in Germany and discharged as a captain in 1947,” Susan said.

In 1948, Leo and his father, Darrell L. Sawyer, founded and operated Sawyer Aviation Co. in Walla Walla, specializing in crop dusting and spraying. Most if the planes he flew were Navy surplus. He sold his company to Blue Mountain Aviation in 1962 and worked for them as a spray and duster pilot. He retired from flying in 1969.

Former Walla Wallan Pierce Cameron Johnson is currently in clinical rotations in Roseville, Calif. The third-year medical student at Drexel University is also recently married.

He and former Walla Wallan Jamie Marie Hess, now of Roseville, wed at the Winn Homestead in Weston on June 21, 2013. Pierce’s sister, Marnie Johnson, officiated.

The son of Rob and Louise Johnson of Walla Walla, Pierce graduated in 2003 from Walla Walla High School. He earned a degree in cellular and molecular biology with a chemistry minor in 2009 from Western Washington University.

Jamie graduated in 2001 from Wa-Hi, majored in biology and minored in Spanish and in 2006 graduated from Washington State University. The daughter of Dan and Kathie Hess of Walla Walla, she is a senior health representative for Pfizer Pharmaceuticals in the Sacramento, Calif., area.

Pierce wrote a special song for Jamie that he played and sang while her father escorted her down the aisle.

The couple’s big day started with a lot of rain, but cleared up as the day went progressed, Kathie said.

“The skies were cloudy, but just as the bride and groom were announced as a couple and turned to the audience, the sun shone through,” Kathie recalled. And the bride’s cousin, Matthew Hess played “Here Comes the Sun” on guitar for the recessional.

In support of DeSales Catholic High School’s athletic department, Scott Hester, owner of the Sears Hometown Store on Main Street, and Parley Fox III, assistant store manager, delivered an outsized $850 check for Touchdown Tuesdays and Thursdays to the school during a recent game between DeSales and Tri-Cities Prep.

They commented that “it was a pleasure to have the opportunity to support DeSales Athletic Department and we are already talking about how to do it even bigger next year if our Sears Hometown Store is again selected to participate in the event.”

Etcetera appears daily and Sunday. Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at annieeveland@wwub.com or 526-8313.


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