Gazette Article by: Elaine Fandell
Appeared in the Gazette: Autumn 2001
Several years ago when the Minnesota Historical Society reopened its exhibit area, a unique approach was taken to interpret its history from “A to Z.” Various objects and topics were depicted by “letters,” and visitors moved through the gallery “alphabetically.” The editorial board of the Winnetka Historical Society Gazette has decided to adopt a similar technique and has added a new feature, “WINNETKA HISTORY: A to Z.”
Cen-o-taph: a monument erected to honor a deceased person whose remains lie elsewhere.
Each Memorial Day the names of Winnetka servicemen who lost their lives during this nation’s armed conflicts are read during a moving ceremony. But aside from Memorial Day, few people take the time to examine the lists of names and the art on Winnetka’s war memorial, a cenotaph on the Village Green. It was dedicated Nov. 13, 1927, to recognize the 10 men who died during World War I, the 81 men and one woman (Millicent Yates) who did not return from service during World War II, the two who died in the Korean conflict and the six who were lost in the Vietnam conflict.
Although there has been no comprehensive research tracing the lives of those listed on the cenotaph, longtime Winnetka residents recall how their own lives touched some of the names.
When the name of Richards P. Washburne is intoned, it revives a poignant memory for Sallie Van Arsdale. Mrs. Van Arsdale grew up on Westmoor Road in Winnetka as Sallie Ellen Welsh, a graduate of The Skokie School and North Shore Country Day School, class of 1940. A classmate had a brother, “Dick” Washburne.
At the time of the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941, Richards P. Washburne was a junior at Williams College in Massachusetts. (Mrs. Van Arsdale says that he is no relation to the namesake of Washburne School.) He volunteered the next year and joined the U.S. Army Air Corps. By then, he and Sallie Welsh had talked of marriage after the war. Washburne was a co-pilot on a B17 bomber that was shot down on July 30, 1942, over Kassel, Germany. His death officially reached Winnetka in the fall of 1942. Mrs. Van Arsdale was wearing his Air Corps wings.
But the story doesn’t end here.
On graduation from Vassar in 1944, Sallie Welsh, no longer waiting for a loved one to return, debated how to get involved with the war effort. She settled on the Navy auxiliary called the WAVES, “Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service.”
“Being a member of the WAVES was an enormous change in atmosphere and routine. We were all motivated to help, “Mrs. Van Arsdale remembers, “It was assumed, because I had been an economics major, that I could best help out in the supply corps. You felt that you were in the mainstream even if our work was not terribly significant. And we did replace men.”
She was separated from service in June, 1946, and returned to Winnetka while continuing to serve in the Reserves for a few years. Sallie knew other war casualties, one of whom, Claude Reebie, was killed during the Korean conflict. His brother Earl Reebie is also listed on the cenotaph. An Air Corps flyer, he was killed during World War II.
One man’s name appears twice on the cenotaph. On the Village Green façade a quotation etched into the marble reads, “It is an investment not a loss when a man dies for his country.” Dinsmore Ely wrote these words in a letter home during World War I. His name also appears as one of the casualties of the war. The Winnetka Historical Society is in possession of the letter.