14 Names to Remember Project Community

Two in Tow & On the Go | Connections made in our 14 Names to Remember Project

Posted on May 24th, 2024 By:

Graphic by Tonya Strickland.

Gig Harbor Now columnist Tonya Strickland researched and profiled the 14 local men whose names appear on the World War II monument at the city’s Kenneth Leo Marvin Veterans Memorial Park. Find all 14 profiles here. You can see an printed exhibit of the project currently on display at the Gig Harbor Civic Center through the end of June.

Human connection

Merriam-Webster defines human connection as the state of being linked to another person or people through kinship or common interest. For me, human connection is the reason behind most of my writing.

One thing I’ve always said about my motivations for tracking down the names, dates, correct spellings, missing incident reports and the essential stories behind who these guys were is because I felt it was important to get the lives of these young men

Panels for the local Niemann brothers are part display at the Gig Harbor Civic Center through the end of June.

in front of people again. To put their stories, acts and sacrifices on the modern day record and not stuffed away in a printed-paper archive somewhere. And, with any luck, perhaps even attract the attention of their descendants who, in all likelihood, never found out the specifics of how their dad’s brother or their grandmother’s cousin fought and died in WWII.

When people connect on social, romantic, and family levels, it brings a sense of belonging, support, and joy. The same is true for stories like these.

But, by contrast, journalism also tells the absolute tragic circumstances of a story — in addition to all the warm and fuzzies. Even still, I’ve found that just the simple act of shared knowledge — no matter its form — is a powerful player in the way people connect. Such as when a grocery checker says to a customer, “Hey, did you read that crazy story in the news today about x y and z?” And the customer, feeling blah and mundane in their daily routine, perks up and chimes in, “Yeah! Wow, I read that this morning!” And so on, and so on.

It’s those human connections that can make or break someone’s day. There’s comfort in shared experiences, even if it’s just

Me hanging out with Willard “Bill” Chessman in Gig Harbor earlier this month.

reading the same news story and talking about it with a friend — or a stranger at the grocery store.

1945 to now

Another longtime writing motivator for me in the quest to further human connection is the knowledge that journalism bridges important gaps. An example of this is, oh, I don’t know, let’s see  … perhaps … within generational gaps due to the passage of time. From, say, 1945 to the present?

A quick look back: On Memorial Day in 1945, Gig Harbor’s World War II Veterans Monument was unveiled to the public at the original Gig Harbor Union High School on Prentice Avenue. The sculpture, carved from Washington granite, featured a stacked stone base below a pillar reaching six feet tall. Embossed in copper were the names of 14 young men, all with a connection to Gig Harbor, who died in combat or accidents while enlisted during WWII. At the ceremony, a Peninsula Gateway reporter wrote about how the local Lions Club commissioned the monument and dedicated it to the fallen veterans’ families – many of whom you’ll recognize today on street names around town. In the early 2000s, the monument was moved from the school campus to Kenneth Leo Marvin Veterans Memorial Park at 3580 50th St. Court, where it stands today. Here’s the story about the day I found it while taking my kids to the playground.

I set out to re-circulate the names into the public sphere and I’m delighted to report that’s what Gig Harbor Now’s 14 Names to Remember Project has done. And (hopefully) continues to do. And with that, I now give you the following examples of cool instances of human connections just from my own personal experiences with the project — not even touching on what other folks have experienced from reading and sharing the biographies, unbeknownst to me.

So, to celebrate this Memorial Day — and last — here’s a look at just some of the ways this project has brought me to other folks in the last 365 days.


Of the 14 names, here’s a look at the descendants and others who have connected with me through these biographies in the last 12 months:

  • Three descendants emailed me directly
  • One I heard about secondhand
  • Two of the people contacted me from the same family
  • One person is abroad
  • Another person replied to me online

Arnold Boers

The first two readers who contacted me were both related Arnold Boers, each an adult child of one of his eight siblings. I’m not going to disclose their names here until they say I can, and sometimes I don’t reply back for awhile or they don’t to me.

As a refresher:

Cpl. Arnold “Arn” Joseph Boers was born June 19, 1921, in Wapato, Washington, to Anna Henrica (Schoenmakers) Boers and Arnold Francis Boers Sr. In the 1930 U.S. Census, he had eight siblings: Margaret, Elizabeth, John, Cornelius, Johanna, Jack, Nellie and Robert Boers. At the time, the family lived in Seattle. It’s unclear whether the corporal ever lived outside of Seattle but his parents and siblings lived on a Rosedale farm for a brief time, according to the 1940 U.S. Federal Census.

The first person was the son of one of Boer’s sisters, who lives out of state. He said his mother is since deceased and he found our story by accident:

While searching for the home address where my mother grew up I came across this article. Arnold Boers was … one of 9 children. My mother and all of her siblings have now passed. My grandparents immigrated from the Netherlands sometime between WW1 and WW2. Thank you for your story.”

The second person was the daughter of one of Arnold’s brothers and she lives here with her husband in Gig Harbor. She said she was on vacation when the article first came out and only later “stumbled across it as I was doing some online research about my father’s military record.”

She relayed some very nice sentiments and shared with me that the Arnold Boers went by “Arn” and “Arnie,” so I incorporated that bit of detail into his final biography. Nicknames are great details to help keep stories, especially record-based biographies like these, more personal and true-to-character.

Some of what she emailed said:

“I first want to say thank you so very, very much for taking the time to acknowledge these fine men and for taking the time to research their lives.”

“My siblings, cousins and I were all brought up knowing that Uncle Arn died serving his country and we were taught the importance of duty and sacrifice.”

“I want you to know that your article meant so much to my family.”

Afterward, since fellow columnist Greg Spadoni kindly helped me decipher some puzzling name mysteries in the Boers’ family genealogical line (and hunted down several handy newspaper clips of Arnold and some other veterans named), Greg is listed as a contributor to Arnold’s story. (He’s also a major historical research person in town).  Anyway, the same gal who emailed me said she saw Greg’s name as a contributor and they ended up meeting up at Gig Harbor’s very own Harbor History Museum to talk in person! So cool!

Harold Mitts

The next descendant I was in contact with was the great grand nephew of Harold Mitts, the eighth name on the memorial. I messaged him on the website FindaGrave.com to ask him whether he was the source of several nice portraits of Harold posted to his memorial.

As a refresher, here was Mitts’ information:

“First Lt. Harold Elmer Mitts was born July 23, 1915 in Capron, Oklahoma, to Bessie B. (Roberson) Mitts and Olie E. Mitts. In the 1920 U.S. Census, he had four siblings: Opal, Florence, Letha, and David Mitts. In the early 1940s, the family moved to Gig Harbor. Today, Mitts Lane NW off Rosedale Street NW is named after their family.”

The nephew sent me original copies of the photos (not just web screenshots — but nice, high-resolution files) of Mitts in the military. I think they’re the nicest portraits I have of any veteran in the series.

c.1940-42 | Courtesy of Rod Gronka, Harold Mitts’ great grand nephew.

Carl Pearson

“Carl Wendel Pearson was born April 5, 1916, in Gig Harbor to Anna Eugenia (Ahlberg) Pearson and Clifford Nelson Pearson. In the 1940 U.S. Census, Carl had three siblings: Ralph, Doris and Eugene “Gene” Pearson.”

The next contact was with Krista Pearson, Carl’s niece (and Gene’s daughter). Krista Pearson of Gig Harbor provided additional information on the circumstances surrounding her uncle’s death.

Krista presented a photocopied military letter of condolence addressed to Clifford Pearson dated April 27, 1945 from Chaplain Capt. John W. Osberg of the U.S. Army. Osberg wrote that Carl Pearson was killed while serving as a squad leader in Company I of the 318th Infantry. He died “by enemy sniper fire when (his) company was attacking a town in Germany. He was identified by a member of his company.” The letter also said Pearson’s body was buried in an American cemetery in Stromberg, Germany and that he received a “grave-side service by a Protestant chaplain.”  After the war, his body returned home and interred Nov. 3, 1948 at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, California.

Harold Mitts (again, maybe)

A city staffer sent me an email just yesterday with the following story:

“I thought you would enjoy what happened today. We had a reception for employees this morning downstairs in our Community rooms at the Civic Center. We have a new (city employee). He was mesmerized by your exhibit. He had not had an opportunity to really look at it before this morning. It turns out, one of the soldiers in your exhibit is his cousin. He was blown away!!! You touched his life in ways you could never imagine.”

She thought perhaps the cousin with Harold Mitts, and I’m currently looking into it. And, again, share more names when I have their permission.

Lyle S. Jones

Jones is the fifth name listed.

“Sgt. Lyle Sanford Jones was born June 13, 1919 in Gig Harbor to Elsie Lenora (Dimmick) Jones and Sanford David Jones. In the 1920 U.S. Census, he had five siblings: Horace, Lois, Doris, Marvin, and Lila Jones, his twin sister. In the 1930s, the Jones family moved to Pendroy, Montana, but later moved back because many are buried in Pierce and Kitsap County cemeteries.”

I located a harrowing essay titled “Sugarfoot: The True Story of Ten Brave Men and a B-17 Flying Fortress” written by Francis P. McDermott, nephew of Sugarfoot’s Radio Operator Charlie Kobis who flew with Jones the day the plane crashed. Here’s an excerpt from the portion of the essay that mentions Sgt. Jones:

Sgt. Lyle S. Jones would occupy the tail gunners position in place of Sgt. Robert D. Abney, whose hands and legs were frozen when his electrical flying suit failed during the Bordeaux flight. The crew members knew each other pretty well by now, having become good friends since coming together as an Air Crew at Walla Walla, Washington, earlier in the year.”

The essay goes on to describe the flight, attack, and Sugarfoot’s subsequent crash into the ocean, all based on survivor reports. I contacted Francis’ descendants to get permission to reprint his essay.

Jones Part II

Then, just this morning, Louis de Jong of the Netherlands DM’ed me on LinkedIn to say he adopted Jones’ name 10 years ago as a veteran to leave flowers for every Memorial Day at the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, in Holland. He has more info on the crash site and I can’t wait to read it and share that with you soon.

Courtesy of Louis de Jong, Netherlands. De Jong, who said he adopted Jones’ name 10 years ago as a veteran to leave flowers for every Memorial Day, stands next to Jones’ name inscribed on the Tablets of the Missing at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, in Holland.

Happy Memorial Day, Gig Harbor.

Until next time!

Tonya Strickland is a Gig Harbor mom-of-two and longtime journalist. Now in the travel and family niche, her blog, Two in Tow & On the Go, was recently named among the 10 Seattle-Area Instagram Accounts to Follow by ParentMap magazine. Tonya and her husband Bowen moved to Gig Harbor from California with their two kids, Clara (10) and Wyatt (8) in 2021. Find them on Facebook for all the kid-friendly places in and around town.