Army Spc. Aaron Aamot of Custer died in November 2009 in Afghanistan when the vehicle he was driving went over a bomb in the road. He was the first Whatcom County resident killed while fighting in Afghanistan. About six months later, his name was added to a memorial at the County Courthouse.
Yet as of the end of April, more than five years after his death, Aamot’s name still wasn’t on a commemorative granite slab at Sunnyland Memorial Park. His name was finally added in late May 2016, in time for Memorial Day ceremonies.
Such slow action is one reason the Rotary Club of Bellingham decided to become the official steward of Memorial Park.
“We needed someone who was going to do it,” said Rotary member Roland Trenouth, a retired cardiologist who urged the club to take action.
The Sunnyland memorial was established soon after World War I by local mothers who lost sons in the war.
Trenouth became interested in the upkeep of Memorial Park, located behind Sunnyland Elementary School, a few years ago when he noticed that Daniel Bartle’s name wasn’t on the memorial.
Bartle was a Marine captain from Ferndale who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan in January 2012. His name was added to the Courthouse memorial eight months after his death.
Trenouth is familiar with the Bartle family and contacted Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department about Bartle’s missing name at Sunnyland. The Marine’s name was eventually added at Sunnyland, years after his death.
Memorial arose after World War I
The Sunnyland memorial was established soon after World War I by local mothers who lost sons in the war. The entryway arch was erected in 1922, and 88 dogwoods were planted in the park, one for each Whatcom soldier killed in the war. A bowl-shaped fountain was added five years later.
Marvin Harris, parks operations manager for the city, said the original memorial was easy to maintain, but the fountain was later disconnected because children were using it as a wading pool.
In 2005, radio station KGMI-AM 790 sponsored a public campaign to design and build a new memorial at Sunnyland, and listeners donated more than $150,000 in cash and services to erect the six granite markers, with a flagpole in the middle, benches, and commemorative pavers.
Five of the markers list, separately, names of local soldiers killed in WWI, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and in Iraq or Afghanistan. The sixth marker has general information about the wars.
Naturally, we hope there won’t be any more engraving needs in the near future.
Sandy McIntire, board member, Rotary Club of Bellingham
After the KGMI project was dedicated later that year, about $10,000 in unspent donations was set aside for the cost of engraving additional names and for other expenses, such as replacing bronze plaques stolen in 2011. About $5,000 remains in the fund, Harris said.
The frequency of local soldiers killed in combat slowed considerably after the Vietnam War. The company that engraves the names at Sunnyland is based in Everett, so the parks department would sometimes wait for several fallen soldiers’ names before contracting with the company to do the engraving, Harris said. That approach made financial sense but slowed the process of adding names.
With the Rotary Club as the memorial’s steward, names of any local soldiers killed in combat will be added with a stronger sense of urgency, using money in the trust fund to start, Sandy McIntire, a Rotary board member, said by email.
“Naturally, we hope there won’t be any more engraving needs in the near future,” he said. “We do not have any fundraising projects planned in the near term, as the balance should be adequate for the foreseeable future. If needed, we’re confident that we can raise adequate funds.”
The city will continue to mow and landscape the grounds at Memorial Park, and assist with any major repairs at the memorial, but Harris said he’s glad that an established organization like the Rotary Club has agreed to take the memorial under its wing.
‘It’s really great for us when a group like that wants to get involved,” he said
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291
To support the Rotary Club of Bellingham’s stewardship of Sunnyland Memorial Park, contact the club at portal.clubrunner.ca/264.