As the mighty Columbia River rushed by Maritime Memorial Park under the Astoria Bridge in Uniontown Monday afternoon, seagulls screamed overhead, the clanging bell of the Astoria trolley was heard in the distance and a bright yellow pilot boat anchored offshore.
Then, just as people were arriving for the annual memorial program, the sun peeked through the clouds. Some alone, most in groups, many carrying flowers, people drifted toward the names engraved in black granite rectangles on the walls of the monument.
Many names are accompanied by a drawing, a description, a line of poetry or a humorous reference.
Because it was Memorial Day, the walls were dotted with small bouquets of flowers.
The names belong to fishermen, cannery workers, doctors, lawyers, bar pilots, members of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Merchant Marine, artists and carpenters, Rae Goforth, president of the Uniontown Association, told the assembled crowd. But they all had one thing in common, she said. "They all loved the river and loved living in Astoria. This wall tells the story of our town."
With singing, poetry and wreaths of flowers, those departed community members are honored at this annual Memorial Day event, which also pays tribute to military personnel who gave their lives for their country or died trying to save lives at sea or on the river.
There were smiles as well as tears, as people sought out the names of their friends and loved ones before the service began.
Eldon Korpela, a retired Astoria High School teacher, recognizes many of the names on the wall, and they conjure up memories for him. "I could tell you a story about each one of them," he said.
For Jo Watts, visiting the memorial and seeing the name of her husband, Kenneth W. Watts, who was a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, is a bittersweet experience. "It's hard - it's something I have to do, " she said. "It makes me feel closer to him."
For Gresham resident Brent Forsberg, his wife Molly Forsberg and sister Jodene Christopher, there's a sense of pride. "My dad helped build this bridge," Brent Forsberg said, pointing to the huge structure looming above the park. He said his father, Roy Forsberg, was a pile buck, who drove in the piles that hold the bridge up. "It's fitting he would be memorialized here," he said.
Ruth Parnell came from the Portland area with her husband, Bob Parnell, to remember family members. The names of her father, Frank Fransen, and her brothers, Albert and John Robert Fransen, are all on the wall.
Even though Sven and Maureen Sundstrom are Astorians, this is their first time at the memorial service, which has been an annual event for more than a dozen years. Their visit was prompted by the death of their dear friend Stan Swanson, Maureen Sundstrom said. She said they planned to place flowers in the river in tribute to their friend while all 634 names engraved on the monument were being read as part of the service.
Herb Olson had a special reason to attend. "I'm the one who does the engraving," Olson said, adding that he also has some friends on the wall.
Olson works for Russ Warr, who owns Astoria Granite and has donated much time and many resources to the memorial wall. "The wall is a source of pride for us," Warr said. "And it gives people a lot of peace."
The memorial is a reflection of Astoria, said Uniontown resident Verna Dunlap. "It's for everyone with a love in their heart for the river."