The Eternal Flame monument burns in the center of the Snohomish County Campus on Nov. 3, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The Eternal Flame monument burns in the center of the Snohomish County Campus on Nov. 3, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Old scrapbooks reveal ‘true origin’ of Snohomish County’s eternal flame

Ahead of the monument’s 50th anniversary, the granddaughter of the designer donated a detailed record of the flame.

EVERETT — A recent donation to Snohomish County brings new context to a memorial flame that’s burned for five decades — just in time for the monument’s golden anniversary.

In July, Patty Anderson gifted a box of her grandmother’s old scrapbooks, photo albums and documents to the county. County Executive Operations Officer Josh Dugan began reviewing the items earlier this month.

Inside the box, he found the original, hand-drawn renderings for the county’s eternal flame, a monument that memorializes service members who have died in the line of duty.

This Veterans Day marks the monument’s 50th anniversary.

The drawings were made by Anderson’s grandmother Lois Johnson, who helped light the flame on Nov. 11, 1972.

“I’m going through this box and I’m like, ‘Oh my god, this is so cool … to really see the true origin of it,’” Dugan said.

Johnson lived in Lake Stevens with her husband Ira Emmitt Johnson. The couple had two sons, Donald and Ira “Bud” Jr.

Anderson, 64, said her grandfather fought in World War I. His sons were inspired by his service and enlisted to fight in World War II.

“My dad enlisted in the Navy and Bud in the Army,” Anderson said. “One didn’t make it home.”

The first rendering of the original Eternal Flame monument on the Snohomish County Campus on Nov. 3, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The first rendering of the original Eternal Flame monument on the Snohomish County Campus on Nov. 3, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Bud Johnson died during the Battle of the Bulge on Dec. 3, 1944. It was his 20th birthday.

Following her son’s death, Johnson founded the Evergreen Chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers. The organization represents mothers with a child who died while on active duty. Members help perpetuate the memory of service members who died, and they support veterans and active duty military members and their families.

Johnson led the group’s efforts to erect the county’s eternal flame monument during the Vietnam War. Her scrapbooks are filled with photos and news clippings documenting the installation of the eternal flame, as well as her organization’s other activities.

The books cover multiple years, including 1954, one of the earliest years of the local branch when Johnson first proposed the eternal flame memorial.

“The Gold Star Mothers had plans to erect a war memorial in the mid-1950s, but later arrangements by Snohomish County to include a memorial in the new courthouse addition caused them to set aside those plans,” reads an Everett Herald article from 1971 that Johnson preserved in her scrapbooks. “Lois C. Johnson, president of the organization, said the Evergreen chapter was not satisfied with the existing memorial … so their former plans have been renewed.”

Dugan, the county staffer, called the box a “treasure trove” of information.

“There’s a lot of history here,” said Dugan, who has helped maintain the monument.

Dugan served in the Navy for about 30 years. He retired from the military in 2015 and took the county job shortly after. In 2018, he coordinated the relocation from a spot just a few feet northwest of where it now stands. The process involved transferring the fire to Evergreen Cemetery — so as not to temporarily extinguish the eternal flame — and designing a new spot for the memorial at the top of the county’s amphitheater.

Dugan said his design tied in the county’s other military memorials and was meant to “incorporate the old and the new.” One of the photos in Johnson’s scrapbooks revealed how Dugan’s relocation gives nod to the flame’s origins, albeit serendipitously.

Photographs and documents of the original Eternal Flame monument on the Snohomish County Campus on Nov. 3, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Photographs and documents of the original Eternal Flame monument on the Snohomish County Campus on Nov. 3, in Everett. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The image shows the original placement of the monument in the courtyard of the county campus, sandwiched between the west county admin building and the mission building. It’s almost exactly where the updated memorial is today.

“I had no idea until I looked at the picture,” Dugan said.

Anderson said the discovery “gives me goosebumps.”

Dugan will design a public exhibit of some donated items on the first floor of the west admin building, near the existing “In Memoriam” and “Among Us” displays that honor fallen service members and county staff members who are veterans, respectively. The rest of will enter the county archives, where community members can view them by request.

Archiving the documents makes them accessible for the American Gold Star Mothers to fill in gaps in the organization’s record. How the group waxed and waned with war involvements is not always clear, said Monica McNeal,the department president for Washington, Alaska and Oregon American Gold Star Mothers.

“Somewhere after the Korean War, Vietnam, the (Washington state) chapters all disappeared,” she said. “We reinstated in 2006.”

McNeal’s department represents moms who would have belonged to the Evergreen Chapter. The organization’s national records don’t have much information about the former local branch, so McNeal can use Johnson’s scrapbooks to change that.

Family donations like this often provide information that benefits a developing national database of all Gold Star families.

“It’s part of our history. It’s part of connecting a family to an organization and to the war,” McNeal said. “To get these archives and these memories put together with a family name, it really helps.”

Mallory Gruben is a Report for America corps member who writes about education for The Daily Herald.

Mallory Gruben: 425-339-3035; mallory.gruben@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @MalloryGruben.

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