Updated: Sep 6, 2020
This was a chance meeting of two unrelated great grandsons of two men who lived in the year 1651, in a place three thousand miles from Walla Walla. What are the odds of this meeting taking place in this city and what did these two men have in common to talk about? I do not know what the odds are, but I do know what they talked about and I hope readers enjoy this story as much as I enjoy telling it. I was invited by Ted Blew, to write a guest blog for his new Blaw-Blew-Blue website. This is my first attempt to put this story in writing and my first blog. I want to keep it as short as possible, but there are several characters involved, and I mean that in a good way. I will be celebrating my 82nd birth date this year so that is my excuse for any mistakes or omissions.
Bill Blue of Seattle introduced me to the National Blue Family Association many years ago. If you are reading this blog, I do not need to explain who Bill Blue is. He is the gentleman who opened the door for me to enter the world of genealogy and I am very grateful to him for that and for his friendship. He recommended a book for me to read entitled “The Island at he Center of the World” by Russell Shorto. This is the place where two characters in my story begins, in the city of New Amsterdam. Now, I don’t know if these two men ever met and had dinner together but Peter Stuyvesant was the governor of the island who signed the document that gave a piece of land to our Dutch ancestor, my seventh great grandfather, Frederic Jansen. This small piece of land is now covered by the Cunard Building, right across the street from the New York Stock Exchange.
Now back to Walla Walla, “the city at the center of the pacific Northwest” and I mean that geographically and historically. This is where Fort Walla Walla becomes part of the story and where General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright was born. He went on to become the famous four-star general, and recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor, who was left in charge of the Philippine Islands when General MacArthur departed the island in World War II. Wainwright described his birthplace as the city they liked so well they named it twice. Now to the next character in my story, Peter Wainwright, a close cousin of General Wainwright, who I had the pleasure of having dinner with at the Walla Walla Airport as he was departing this very likable city.
Now on to the "rest of the story". The reason this meeting took place here and to introduce another important character in this story, Roger McGee, a Vietnam Veteran who took a job as a Security officer at the Walla Walla VA Hospital, located on the site of Fort Walla Walla. While working at the hospital, Roger read much about General Wainwright and discovered that when the General returned from the war he was very apprehensive about what Americans may think of him since he was the one who surrendered the islands to the Japanese and became a prisoner of war for over three years. Roger stated his feelings about the general as he described his own apprehensive feelings as a returning veteran from the Vietnam War. Roger had also worked in a bronze foundry for a while and had taken up sculpting as a hobby and of course this led to him making a small eighteen inch high bronze statue of the general which he brought to my new art gallery located at the very center of downtown Walla Walla, the intersection of First & Main streets where Mill Creek passes under the streets and right by the art gallery. I need to explain here that after retiring from 20 years in the Walla Walla Fire Deptartment and looking for something else to do with my time, I had opened an art Gallery at the spot that was at one time known as the Nez Perce Crossing. This is where I first became acquainted with Roger, the artist.
He brought the small statue to me for consignment in the gallery and told me of his desire to make a heroic size statue to be placed somewhere on the VA Hospital grounds. To shorten this part of the story, I agreed to help him by forming a committee of veterans to raise money for the project. This then became a project of AMVETS Post 1111 of Walla Walla, and now there is a large statue of the saluting General standing in the center of the original drill field of Fort Walla Walla.
Several members of the Wainwright Family, some as far away as New York, made the trip to attend the dedication of the statue and the renaming of the hospital in honor of their and our American Hero. “Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial Veterans Affairs Medical Center” was the name chosen and approved by the U.S. Congress. Peter Wainwright, the General's cousin, was one of several speakers at the event. Peter returned to Walla Walla once again at a later date to speak at a POW Day event at the site of the statue. After that event I drove Peter to the airport and had dinner with him at the terminal while he waited to return to New York, his birth city. During our dinner conversation, I learned that his middle name was Stuyvesant and I just had to ask if he was related to the 17th-century New Amsterdam governor, and sure enough he was - his 7th great-grandson! Our conversation at that point turned to genealogy and the long-ago connection of our two families, until he boarded his plane for his home, on the island that is still the center of the world.
Below, Roger McGee standing with the clay model of the Statue and the finished statue on Veterans Day 1996. The plan was to have the dedication on Veterans Day 1995, 50 years after the General had returned to Walla Walla to visit his birth place and to be the Parade Marshall for the Veterans Day Parade. The dedication was delayed one year due to government delays in site preparations and waiting for Congress to approve the renaming of the medical center. Roger McGee's online art gallery can be seen at www.wind-dancer-flutes.com