Richard Hanks talks about his book “Solemn, the Drums Thrill: Essays on the Fallen Heroes of Stanwood Camano: WW I to Afghanistan” outside the Stanwood Area Historical Society on Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Richard Hanks talks about his book “Solemn, the Drums Thrill: Essays on the Fallen Heroes of Stanwood Camano: WW I to Afghanistan” outside the Stanwood Area Historical Society on Wednesday. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

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Names on memorial, the stories of war dead told in new book

Stanwood-Camano historian, Lincoln scholar Richard Hanks spans decades in “Solemn, the Drums Thrill.”

Ninety years passed between the deaths of infantryman Harvey C. Baker, lost to illness in France during the 1918 flu pandemic, and Army Capt. Robert Lindenau, killed in 2008 by a rocket-propelled grenade in Afghanistan.

Their names are enshrined as part of the Stanwood Area Historical Society Veterans Memorial. On the society’s grounds in downtown Stanwood, next to the Floyd Norgaard Cultural Center, plaques on five granite pedestals list those who died in major armed conflicts: World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq and Afghanistan.

Names on plaques preserve history and honor sacrifice. They can’t tell stories.

Richard Hanks, an author and the historical society’s current president, has done that with his new book, “Solemn, The Drums Thrill: Essays on the Fallen Heroes of Stanwood Camano: World War I to Afghanistan.”

Published by Hanks’ Camano Island-based Coyote Hill Press, the book profiles 50 people whose names are engraved at the memorial. Forty-nine essays tell of local military men lost to war. And one profiles Silvana’s Emma Thorsen, a Red Cross nurse who died at Camp Dodge, Iowa, during the 1918 influenza epidemic.

Eleven of the book’s subjects died during World War I, 26 were lost in World War II, three in Korea, six in Vietnam, and four were killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, Hanks signed copies of his book at the historical society’s Tolin House, with proceeds from Veterans Day sales going to support the nonprofit’s restoration efforts.

Hanks, 69, is neither a veteran nor a lifelong resident of the Stanwood-Camano community, a place he said he sees “with new eyes.” A historian and retired journalist, he and his wife, Robin, moved to Camano Island from California in 2014.

“I love history. I love everybody’s history,” said Hanks. He has master’s degree in archival science, and from the University of California-Riverside a doctorate in Native American studies. As a volunteer, he has done archiving work with the Tulalip Tribes.

He also has an ancestral link to a giant in U.S. history. Hanks is related, as a distant cousin, to Nancy Hanks Lincoln, the mother of President Abraham Lincoln. And Lincoln, he said, stayed with his ancestors when he came west to Kansas. The author grew up in Beardstown, Illinois, a river town where Lincoln had once practiced law.

Hanks began researching those lost to war from Stanwood and Camano in 2015. That’s when local Navy veteran Jim Joyce and his friend Bill Keller launched their effort to create the war memorial. Initially, Hanks’ essays, about 40 of them, were published in The Crab Cracker, a free magazine featuring Camano and Stanwood community news. He finished the rest of the profiles after the memorial was dedicated in 2018.

The book title “Solemn, the Drums Thrill” comes from a poem, “For the Fallen,” by Laurence Binyon. The English poet wrote it in 1914, shortly after the start of the Great War.

Each unique story is a heart-breaker. “The recent ones, they were the hardest ones to write,” Hanks said.

Along with Lindenau, a team leader with the 91st Civil Affairs Battalion in Afghanistan, the most recent losses include Justin Hebert, Cody Calavan and Charles Matheny IV.

The Hebert essay is titled “They Didn’t Come Any Better.” It’s a quote from an interview with Army Sgt. Jason Haynes, conducted by a Stars and Stripes writer in Iraq near where Hebert, a fire support specialist from Silvana, was killed while on patrol Aug. 1, 2003. Hebert was the first soldier from Snohomish County to die in Iraq, Hanks wrote.

Calavan joined the Marines after graduating from high school in Lake Stevens. His parents moved to Stanwood. The 19-year-old machine gunner and two other Marines died in Iraq on May 29, 2004 — Memorial Day weekend — “when a car bomb mangled their Humvee as it passed along a stretch of Ramadi highway,” according to the book.

Stanwood’s Matheny, a 2000 Arlington High School graduate, joined the Army a month before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The 23-year-old sergeant, the fourth generation in his family to serve, was on his second deployment to Iraq when his vehicle was hit by a cluster bomb. He died Feb. 18, 2006.

In each of the book’s sections, from all the wars represented by Stanwood’s memorial, there are chilling accounts of bravery and sacrifice.

One Stanwood area family mourned two brothers during World War II. Andrew “Bud” Riker was part of an armored division that had breached German defenses at the Maginot Line when he was killed in France on Dec. 10, 1944. His family later learned that on Oct. 24, 1944, Dorman Riker was among more than 1,700 American POWs lost when the Japanese “hell ship” Arisan Maru was torpedoed by a U.S. submarine — its crew not knowing the repurposed freighter carried Allied prisoners.

The book begins with a dedication “to the brave sons and daughters of the Stanwood/Camano Island community who answered their nation’s call and gave the ultimate sacrifice on distant fields.”

“All of them at some level do touch me,” Hanks said.

His book includes a letter President Lincoln wrote to a Mrs. Bixby during the Civil War: “I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom.”

Hanks, a Lincoln scholar and Lincoln family descendant, said “I want people to remember that.”

Julie Muhlstein:

The book

“Solemn, The Drums Thrill: Essays on the Fallen Heroes of Stanwood Camano: World War I to Afghanistan,” by Richard Hanks, is available at:

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