WASHOUGAL — Entering the Columbia Ridge Senior Living complex, one could be forgiven for thinking that it was like many other assisted living centers that dot the country. Dishes clatter in the background as meals are prepared, attendants bustle about their business and residents talk or go to and from their daily activities.
However, step inside the residence, and one is met by a brightly painted American flag and the words “Hall of Honor” displayed on a wall. Proceeding down this Hall of Honor, one realizes that Columbia Ridge has assembled a veritable time capsule of American military memorabilia, all in an effort to pay tribute to the nation’s veterans.
The push to create the Hall of Honor at Columbia Ridge was spearheaded by Executive Director Lori Anderson. According to Anderson, the Hall of Honor began in early June as a way to show proper respect and honor to veterans.
Anderson said that prior to the creation of the Hall of Honor, the senior living center had an image of an eagle accompanying photographs of residents who were veterans. This small wall helped spur Anderson to do something more to honor the nation’s service men and women.
When one of the residents of the home passed away and their picture was removed from the wall, Anderson felt that “it shouldn’t be over.”
“It’s got to be more than this,” Anderson said. “They need to be honored whether they’re here or not, whether they’re our residents or not.” These feelings helped drive Anderson to build the Hall of Honor.
A walk down the hall subjects viewers to a walk through time. The Hall of Honor begins with a painting of an American flag on the wall, emblazoned with the words of the Pledge of Allegiance.
The walls of the hall are lined with photos of resident veterans, organized by the branch of the military in which they served. These photos are not only recent photos of the veterans, but also pictures from when they were in uniform.
The walls are also lined with artifacts from the World Wars and other historic periods. These include historic prints of American propaganda posters, a gallery of images of historic aircraft and newspaper clippings detailing significant events such as the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
There are also a myriad of photos of resident veterans and their fellow service men and women during the times in which they served. The hall also features images of ships on which some of the veterans served.
While the artifacts primarily revolve around World War I, World War II and the Korean War, other items have been donated that commemorate other conflicts. For example, a folded flag hangs on the wall and was flown in honor of Columbia Ridge Senior Living and its veterans over a military base in Afghanistan.
Anderson said that most of the artifacts on display came from the residents themselves or their family members. Others have been donated by local organizations or donated or purchased from local families.
“Everywhere I go I look for something that could be of meaning to some veteran somewhere,” Anderson said.
Anderson said that she began working in the senior living industry as a volunteer when her grandfather was in assisted living, and she saw the difficulties he had getting assistance due to his veteran status.
When her father passed away, Anderson said that the memorial service was the first time she experienced a military funeral, and was “proud” of the honor shown to her father. This in part made her more interested in the history and stories of veterans, Anderson said.
Anderson began a full career in the senior living industry approximately nine years ago. In the different homes she worked at, Anderson said that most veteran honor walls were similar. They simply had a patriotic image and a display of photos of the veterans living in that particular home. Anderson said that she “always felt there needed to be more.”
From that feeling arose the passion to build the Hall of Honor. “These people served, and they fought for our country, and they gave us the freedoms we have today,” Anderson said. “If it weren’t for them, where would we be?”
The first part of the Hall of Honor to be completed was the American flag and Pledge of Allegiance painted on the wall. Since it started in June, the Hall of Honor has expanded and evolved, Anderson said.
She also said that the wall will change to cover more eras of veterans from different conflicts “as the generations go through.”
“It’s never going to be finished,” Anderson said.
Residents and family members have been extremely happy with the Hall of Honor, Anderson said. A variety of residents at Columbia Ridge Senior Living are either featured on the wall or related to someone who is.
Jean Russell expressed pride that her husband’s picture was in the hall. Charles A. Russell served in the United States Navy for approximately 30 years. Jean Russell proudly told of his job helping to run Sand Point Naval Air Station near Seattle. She expressed gratitude that a photograph of her husband in uniform at his post was in the Hall of Honor.
Camas resident Pete Fertello is a World War II Navy veteran. Upon graduating from high school, Fertello enlisted in the navy and was stationed aboard the USS Sarasota, an attack transport ship. During his time in the navy, Fertello and his ship took part in the landings at Okinawa and Kerama Retto.
Fertello and the Sarasota then participated in Operation Magic Carpet, which was a massive postwar operation to bring home American troops.
Anderson credits Fertello as being a major help in getting some of the photos featured in the Hall of Honor. For Fertello, the Hall of Honor is an emotional experience. He said it “brings back a lot of memories.”
“I think it’s a part of our history that we should maintain forever,” Fertello said.
Lois Eliuk is an Air Force veteran from the Korean War era who joined the service in 1951 after high school on prompting from a friend. In the Air Force, she worked as a physical therapist. She is proud of her service to the country, and said she “felt like I was of service.”
Eliuk is not the only member of her family featured in the Hall of Honor. Her father, George W. Kellogg, served in the United States cavalry in World War I. His picture and World War I victory medal are also featured in the Hall of Honor.
“To walk up and down here is just an honor,” Eliuk said.
For Columbia Ridge resident Fernald Shaw, the Hall of Honor has become a part of his daily routine.
“I check the wall every morning to see if anything new has been added,” Shaw said.
Shaw is an Army veteran from World War II. He enlisted in 1943 after his sophomore year of high school. “I could do more in the service than I could finishing school,” Shaw said.
He served in the artillery of the Second Infantry Division, and landed in Normandy, France, on June 9, 1944, three days after the D-Day landings. His unit helped liberate the French port city of Brest, and then joined other American forces in Belgium. Shaw fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Dec. 1944 to Jan. 1945.
He then crossed the Rhine River into Germany, and ended the war in Czechoslovakia.
As an American veteran who helped liberate France, Shaw received the Legion of Honor, France’s highest honor, on Feb. 19, 2015, from the French government.
“I’ve had a long journey,” Shaw said.
Shaw is willing to talk about his time in the service, but becomes emotional when he reflects on the sacrifices made by those who died in the service of their country. He has high praise for Anderson and her work in creating the Hall of Honor.
“She told me about what she wanted to do, and I thought that was elegant,” Shaw said, “because they’re honoring my buddies that didn’t make it home.”
Anderson said that the Hall of Honor will be officially unveiled at a ceremony on Wed., Sep. 27, at 10 a.m.
She said that the hall has been received with overwhelmingly positive praise from veterans and their families. “I think that it helps them to kind of process the things that they had to go through. To know that they are not forgotten.”
To Shaw, the Hall of Honor represents a sort of closure to his time in the service. “This means the end of my journey right here,” Shaw said.