I did not know Vernon Depew. The first time I saw his face was on the memory page of the 1969 FHS yearbook, alongside Doug Foster and Norm Lodholm. I got to know a little bit about him through researching him for this article.
The Vietnam War officially ended April 30, 1975. The West End lost four of their own in the 10-plus year conflict. The first casualty from the West End was on May 20, 1967.
Vernon Depew was born in Grays Harbor but spent most of his life growing up in the West End. He played basketball and football, winning awards for Most Inspirational.
After graduation, he married in July 1965; in January 1966 he was drafted and soon was in Vietnam. In May 1967, Depew was taking part in a skirmish called Operation Hickory. The concept of the operation was to advance very quickly to the Ben Hai River, then wheel and attack southward. Hickory was the western portion of the operation with operation Belt Tight handling the northeast quadrant of the area, Operation Lam Son 54 handled the area in the middle.
When the multi-faceted operations were over 156 Marines and sailors had died in the fighting between May 18-28, 1967.
Depew was scheduled to be discharged from service in August 1967 but he never came home. Also not returning home from Vietnam were Douglas Foster, Norman Lodholm and Donald Kraft.
After Depew’s death, the local American Legion sponsored a fundraising drive organized by Edna Leppell. Money was raised and in May 1968 a granite monument honoring Depew’s service was erected in Tillicum Park. In addition to the monument, the late Frank Lyda, who was a WWII veteran, and had military connections, procured an M-56 Scorpion. The M56 Scorpion was an unarmored American anti-tank gun, which featured a 90mm M54 gun with a simple blast shield and unprotected crew compartment. It was meant to be transported by helicopter or by air drop. Lyda worked to get the machine surplussed to the City of Forks as a memorial and arranged its transportation to its present location in the park.
A few years back the Forks Lions club built a shelter for the Scorpion and the Department of Corrections inmates repainted it.
At some point vandals entered the park and tipped the granite memorial monument over from its pedestal, breaking it into pieces. The monument has since been replaced.
Monday, May 30, at 11 a.m. the Cub Scouts will be placing a wreath at the City Hall Monument at Forks City Hall, 500 E. Division St., and the Fletcher Wittenborn VFW rifle squad will offer a gun salute. Rod Fleck will emcee a short ceremony and everyone is invited to attend.
If Depew were alive this Memorial Day weekend what would he be doing? Playing with grandchildren? Cooking steaks on the barbecue? Maybe mowing the grass, fixing the car? Doing those things we all grumble about. He missed the big things and he missed the little things. There is just one little thing we all can do — take a moment and remember him and all the others who gave it all while we do all the things they never got to do.