Cheney Free Press -

By Lee Hughes
Staff reporter 

Reardan non-profit planning war memorial

 

Last updated 11/8/2019 at 10:04am

Lee Hughes

The existing Joe Mann memorial and plaque honoring Reardan's veterans. The faded plaque is to be replaced by a walk-around memorial amphitheater near Audubon Lake in Reardan. Mann is celebrated annually in the Netherlands, and his heroism taught to school children there.

REARDAN - Posthumous Medal of Honor recipient Private Joe Mann's exploits in Holland during World War II have been celebrated across the globe.

He is, in part, the namesake of the Department of Veterans Affairs Mann-Grandstaff Medical Center in Spokane. The former Army Reserve Center in Spokane was named Mann Hall. There is the Mann Theater at Fort Campbell, Ky., home of the 101st Airborne. A U.S. Navy ship bore his name, as does a street at Joint Base Lewis-McCord.

And Mann's selfless heroism on the battlefield are to this day still taught to school children in the Netherlands, where the young hero from Reardan is revered for his selfless sacrifice. Elaborate monuments have been erected during the intervening years there, where celebrations, including Joe Mann Day in Best, Netherlands, are an annual civic event.

But the only monument to the native son in Mann's own hometown is a small, fading blue plaque welded to the flagpole in front of City Hall. The sign is labeled the "Joe E. Mann Memorial," and honors "all the men from this area who gallantly gave their lives on the battlefields of the world in the pursuit of freedom."

Other than the name, there is no other mention of Mann or the details of his actions that lead to his and his unnamed fellow service member's humble memorial dated November 1988.

"I've seen that plaque. I just couldn't believe it," Medical Lake contractor and retired Air Force Major Wayne Terry said. "This guy is a medal of honor winner."

So Terry, and Reardan Mayor Gail Daniels, set themselves on a mission to change that.

Market Garden

Seventy-five years ago this September, the men of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division jumped into enemy-occupied territory near the town of St. Oedenrode, Holland - now the Netherlands - as part of Operation Market Garden, an allied effort to establish an invasion route over the Rhine River and into Germany in the waning months of World War II.

After seizing the first of the regiments two bridge objectives, Company H was ordered to secure a second bridge the near the town of Best.

It turned out to be heavily defended by German troops.

Private Joe E. Mann was the lead scout when the company suddenly found themselves surrounded by enemy forces. According to a citation outlining his efforts, Mann "boldly crept to within rocket-launcher range of an enemy artillery position and, in the face of heavy enemy fire, destroyed an enemy 88mm gun and ammunition dump."

Mann then continued the attack with his rifle, dispatching the enemy "one by one," while receiving multiple wounds in the process. Still, he insisted on standing watch that evening.

The Germans launched a counterattack the following morning, coming within a few yards of Mann's position. Because of his wounds, Mann's arms had been bandaged to his body. When a live enemy grenade landed near him and his comrades, and unable to do anything else, Mann yelled "grenade!" - and threw himself over it, shielding his buddies from the blast.

Joe Mann was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds during those two fateful days in Holland.

Sowing seeds

Terry was remodeling a Reardan church basement in 2018 when he began repeatedly pestering Daniels, then a church trustee and city councilwoman, that a more substantial monument should be in built in Reardan to honor its World War II hero.

"I can't believe that no one in Reardan has done anything to honor Joe Mann," Daniels recalls Terry telling her.

And the idea began to take root in Daniels heart. It became a calling of sorts, she said.

"I just knew I was supposed to do something so that Reardan would honor him and remember him much more than the little tiny plaque underneath the flagpole at City Hall," Daniels said.

Together, Daniels and Terry formed a non-profit called "Reardan Heroes," with the intent of honoring all veterans in the Reardan area, and especially Joe Mann.

Then things began to inexplicably fall into place.

First, Daniels found help forming the non-profit from legal and financial experts - all for free - while receiving pledges of money from local citizens and area veterans groups.

Through another connection she stumbled across an architect who not only had experience designing monuments, but also happened to be a native of the Netherlands.

Then, when she was searching for a site for the monument, a former Reardan resident donated four "beautiful" acres of land on the shore of adjacent Audubon Lake.

"It was like all these pieces were fitting into place," Daniels said.

Meanwhile, as she was pulling all the details together, Daniels was appointed mayor by the City Council in July after the elected mayor resigned.

Netherlands: Joe Mann celebrations

Soon after, Byrne Bennett, Joe Mann's nephew, invited Daniels in her capacity as mayor to accompany him to the Netherlands for a 75th anniversary celebration of Market Garden that included a reenactment jump into the Best area.

"It was absolutely amazing," Daniels said of those sunny, celebratory days in the Netherlands. "The American flags, the patriotism; the love for the United States and the gratitude was overwhelming. I'd never seen or felt anything like that."

And she was astounded by how Mann was celebrated there. In addition to several memorials, there is a Joe Mann Amphitheater and a Joe Mann restaurant in Best. Even a local forest is named after him. Pictures of Mann adorned the town.

"Kids in school all know who he is 75 years later," Daniels said of Mann. "He's their local hero.'

A book titled, "Lasting Legacy: The Joe Mann Story," a compilation of historical information about the soldier, notes that, "It is hard to go down any street in the town of Best, Holland, without running into some tribute to Joe Mann."

As mayor of Reardan, Daniels helped lay wreaths at Joe Mann's memorial in Best before upwards of 300 locals, she said. She also went to three similar celebrations in the area, accompanied by aging veterans of the 101st Airborne and local dignitaries.

"It was the most amazing feeling I think I've ever experienced," Daniels said. "I was so honored to be there."

And this was 75 years after the original battle in which Mann gave his life, she noted.

Local amphitheater memorial

Daniels returned to Reardan with not only a pledge of financial support from the mayor of Best, and a promise that the city will send a delegation to Reardan for the dedication, but a renewed sense of purpose and destiny to create a lasting tribute to honor Mann and his fellow veterans in his own home town - to create something more substantial and longer lasting than a faded plaque on a flagpole.

Lee Hughes

Reardan Mayor Gail Daniels, co-founder of the non-profit "Reardan Heroes," holds a rendering of a memorial planned for the city to honor World War II Medal of Honor recipient Joe Mann and other local veterans. The memrial will replace a small faded plaque attached to the City Hall flagpole.

A variety of local and regional professionals, contractors and service providers from as far away as Wenatchee have since pledged in-kind services to the Reardan Heroes amphitheater-style memorial effort.

The current plan is for the monument, that will include an eternal flame, to be maintained by volunteers whose names will be placed on a reader board near the memorials entrance during their maintenance stint, Daniels said.

A Reardan Heroes website is nearly in the production phase. She estimated it would be placed online by the middle of November. The website will include a link to a GoFundMe site for donations to the memorial effort. Donations can also be mailed to: Reardan Heroes, P.O. 214, Reardan, WA, 99029.

Daniels has been in regular communication with Mann family members living in the area regarding the memorial.

"They're very excited," she said. "They thought it's really neat."

Joe Mann is buried at the Greenwood Memorial Terrace Cemetery in Spokane.

Lee Hughes can be reached at lee@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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