EVERETT — A retired Marine, Bradford Pilkenton, took away the eternal flame in a glass case Friday.
The fire outside the Snohomish County courthouse has burned since 1972, a memorial for sons and daughters who never came home. About 80 people watched a ceremony at noon Friday, when the flame’s gas turned off for the first time in years.
Pilkenton, 78, is one of tens of thousands of veterans living in Snohomish County. He served in Cuba and military bases around the United States from 1957 to 1967.
“I’ve got eight members of my family who served in the Marine Corps, all the way from Guadalcanal to Baghdad,” he said, holding the candle flame encased in glass. Pilkenton and his wife, Norma Rae, were entrusted with bringing the candle to the mausoleum at the Evergreen Cemetery, where the fire will burn for the next several months. If all goes according to plan, it will return to the county campus in time for Memorial Day 2019, said Josh Dugan, a retired Navy officer, who serves as special projects director for the Snohomish County executive.
In the meantime, fences will go up around the plaza where the flame and the flags of the Armed Forces have been for 15 years. They’re making way for a new building, part of a major remodel of the courthouse. The plan is to move the burner and the flags to a patch of grass about 25 paces southeast, a more visible spot at the top of the county’s amphitheater.
The local chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers lit the burner during the Vietnam War. This is the second time it has flickered out. It used to be slightly closer to Rockefeller Avenue, but it shifted a few yards west when a new parking garage was being built in 2002. Both times Pilkenton kept the flame alive by moving it to the cemetery in central Everett.
“Eternal means life goes on forever,” Pilkenton said. “It means it’ll never be forgotten. And if you walk down the street there, you’ll see the names of all those who have been killed in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. That’s what we’re doing this for.”
On Friday, U.S. Navy sailors in crisp white uniforms lowered the six military flags from around the burner. Then they took down an American flag that towered high above the center of the plaza. They folded the flags and carried them away.
Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @snocaleb.