Senators and representatives, officers and gentlemen, judges, dentists, preachers, teachers and so many other walks of life have graced the podium over the past 65 years of Memorial Day services held in Memphis. While the guest speakers have varied in the more than half-century that the Wallace W. Gillespie Memorial Post #4958 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars has been hosting the special ceremony, one thing that has remained relatively constant has been the back drop for the event.
As long as Mother Nature cooperates, and allows the ceremony to be held outdoors, the community always gathers on the southwest corner of the Scotland County courthouse lawn to pay tribute to its service members who made the ultimate sacrifice.
The site was established back in 1923, when the World War I memorial was constructed in that quadrant of the city square. The marble memorial has been the back drop for Decoration Day and Memorial Day services ever since.
The Soldiers’ Memorial as it was defined, was commissioned by a number of local patriotic groups led by the Betsy Ross Club, which was formed during the first year of the international conflict.
Other groups joined forces, with donations made by the Home Guards, the Order of the Eastern Star, the Women’s Auxiliary of the American Legion (also known as the Mothers of Soldiers) to help raise the money necessary for the cause. The State of Missouri also matched $1,000 of the project’s cost.
A 1923 Memphis Reveille article described the plans, which called for “an elaborate Bedford stone roof, supported by four pillars of the same material. The names of the boys who gave their lives in the World War will be chiseled on the pillars.”
The engraving reads ” In memoriam to the boys from Scotland Co. 1914 ~ World War ~ 1918 they gave their all for liberty and democracy.”
The honor roll of soldiers includes Garry W. Clark, Fred T. Bradley, Leslie S. Kittle, Ernest O. Moyer, Ezra W. Hartman, Earl Shinberger, Charles G. Boyer, Joseph Crawford, Thos. R. Sanders Jr., Purnell B. Barnett, Warren W. Chambers, Clarence Chancellor, Carl Roasa, Nay Harris, Sam Wilson, Carl Leslie, Byron Dunn, Sam G. Poole, John H. Kerr, Verne Stone, Orin E. Blaine, Lloyd Shelton, Harry Snyder, Fred L. Fingher, Joseph S. Pierce.
Newspaper reports estimated a crowd of between 2,000 to 3,000 attended the dedication of the memorial in May of 1923.
Unfortunately history would alter the memorial, as a second World War produced far too many more names to be memorialized.
The center piece of the statue, a marble water fountain, was removed to another part of the courthouse lawn to allow a new World War II memorial to be placed in its place among the tribute to those lost during World War I.
In 1947 the fountain was replaced with a granite slab naming all those Scotland County servicemen lost in the second world war.
The tribute reads “For God And Country; 1941 – 1945; In Loving Memory Of Our War Dead, May They Rest In Peace.”
Those names listed on the memorial include: Roy T. Beard, Chas. W. Cotton, Jesse J. Cotton, Gurden E. Daniels, Geo. W. Davis, Chas. C. Dumas, Jesse J. Dye, A. Leonard Eager, Paul E. Farland, Donald V. Ferris, Wallace P. Forquer, Wm. K. Forrester, Howard E. Found, Lloyd F. Fowler, Jack Grant, E. Leon Greeno, Leland F. Harvey, Orland Heaton, Claudie E. Phillips, Harley R. Hines, Arlis E. Johnston, Geo. L. Labarge, Dorsey D. Lancaster, Richard H. Mathes, Jack E. Mustoe, Claude E. Parrish, Kenneth N. Phillips, Vernon B. Priebe, Max H. Pulliam, Samuel W. Purvis, Noah L. Robinson, Hillis L. Russell, Warren C. Simms, J. Leo Smith, Lee Roy Sprague, Donald G. Thomas, and Vernon W. Watson.
And so with this dedication, began the tradition of the members of the VFW post marching, in uniform, along with the post’s color guard, to host Memorial services at the site. Post Commander Harry Laird along with veteran Clark Mustoe, placed a floral wreath at the memorial, a tradition that has continued the past 65 years, with Mustoe being blessed to have the honor each year along with a fellow serviceman. WWII naval veteran Charles Harris has been the other constant at the services, leading the recital of the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag.
Reverend H.A. Bickers gave the first invocation in the Memorial Day services history. Fellow pastor, Rev. G. Lolin Eaton was the featured speaker at the 1947 dedication ceremony, harking back to his participation in the original dedication service at the memorial back in 1923.
Following the end of the Vietnam War, the names of five Scotland County servicemen, who lost their lives during the conflict, were added to the side of the memorial’s marble centerpiece. Gerald. L. Gooden, Robert B. Maddox, Larry E. Kigar, Charles T. Moore and Jean M. Kraus are remembered on the Vietnam memorial.
The forgotten part of the original memorial, the marble water fountain, is currently the subject of fundraising efforts by the Scotland County Courthouse Restoration group. Fundraisers have estimated the cost at $2,500 to restore the fountain and return it to service on the courthouse lawn.