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Heroism and Heartbreak – The Lost Takodians of the Second World War

The Roll of Honor

Sunday, July 28, 1946, less than a year since the official end of the war, was a lovely summer day in the woods of Richmond, New Hampshire. The sun was shining, it was 80 degrees, and the sky was dotted with only a few clouds here and there.

Two days earlier, YMCA Camp Takodah had fallen silent in between the Boys sessions in July and the Girls starting up in August. The echoes of laughter and singing from well over a hundred happy campers still hung in the humid air. But the 28th was a different sort of day. It was a quiet day. It was a day in which forty-four Takodians who had died since our camp was founded would be recognized.

Among them, twelve men would take a place of honor that would stand for all time to see.

Oscar and Francis Elwell
Oscar and Frances Elwell

Late that afternoon, as a small gathering of people assembled in a beautiful brand-new wooden building built at the edge of Cass Pond, “Uncle” Oscar Elwell, the camp’s longest serving director, walked out on to the porch. He stood, looking out over the still, shining water and allowed his mind to briefly wander back to how this day had come to pass.

The idea for a “Memorial Lodge” originated during a conversation that Oscar had with Harold Dickinson, one of our Y’s most celebrated founders, in the late summer of 1944. They had two goals they wanted to accomplish, and they knew that they had to be tied together: celebrate the upcoming 30th Anniversary of Camp Takodah while also creating a lasting monument to those alumni lost as the decades had rolled past.

In September of that year, after Oscar reported a successful camping season,the Board of Directors voted unanimously to create the “Memorial Lodge Fund.”

By 1945 they had raised $7,500, the equivalent of nearly $100,000 today. The donations came from local businesses, individual contributing alumni, and generous YMCA benefactors. The fund was later increased to $10,000 to cover the cost of furnishings including light fixtures, a custom bronze plaque,and dozens of wooden folding chairs, some of which are still in use today. Space was cleared at the Waterfront in the spring of 1946 and ground was formally broken on May 15th. The building was constructed by Jim Whitcomb, Takodah’s earliest carpenter, with help from Stan Bush, Edward Rogers, Bob Chase, Eddie Reynolds, Russell Starkey, and other Takodah staff. Several fathers of campers also assisted along with local veterans that had returned from wartime deployments and were struggling to find work.

The vets were paid in “room, board, and a place to have some fun and camaraderie.” It was that last part of the compensation that would prove to be the most valuable. As they dug and poured the foundation, they veterans got to know each other. As they raised the wooden frame, they shared their experiences in the war. As they excavated and laid the stones for the fireplace, they talked about the buddies they had lost. As they put the finishing touches on a structure that would inevitably become one of the most cherished places we have across the entire property, they discussed how they could move forward after such an intense experience overseas. The war loomed so large in their young lives, remaining vast and incomprehensible even as they struggled to return to a daily routine. And out in the forest at Camp, with its memories of family and childhood, they began to heal in body, mind, and spirit.

Memorial Lodge, late 1940s
Memorial Lodge & Waterfront, late 1940s

Oscar opened his eyes and the thoughts of fundraising and construction were replaced by the task at hand on that warm day in 1946. He leaned against a wooden post, looked through the swinging double-doors into the Lodge, and saw some people sitting, while others talked, cried, and comforted each other.

“Oscar,” said Frances, his devoted wife and partner, as she walked up and took him by the hand. “We’re going to get started now.”

They walked together into the lodge as their daughter, Verna Elwell, played “Abide with Me” on the chimes. Soon after, George K. Ripley, President of the Cheshire Y, began to speak.

“We are here to pay our tribute of respect to those forty-four Takodians who are no longer with us, but have encountered physical death. In this service of worship, we would dedicate this memorial lodge to their everlasting remembrance and ourselves to the perpetuation of that tradition which they ennobled with their lives.”

Prayers were offered. Poems were read. Tears were shed.

Francis read all forty-four names as Barbara Bigham sang “Ave Maria.” Rev. Arnold A. Brown led the group through the formal act of dedication. Oscar then stepped towards the fireplace and unveiled a bright, bronze plaque adorned with a screaming eagle in flight, his head turned to the left for peace, and his eyes looking down upon the following names:

Burrows, William
Newell, Gale
Eaton, Thomas
Parady, Phillip
Kingsbury, C.L., Jr.
Robinson, Lawrence
Krepps, Raymond
Slade, Robert
Lancey, Robert
Stearns, F. Allen
Merrill, Leonard
Toomey, George

These men, patriots all, were singled out for permanent recognition as Takodians that had perished in the greatest war the world has ever known. They had served their nation in bombers and battleships, upon the fields of France and the islands of the Marianas, in the burning villages of Italy and across the mountains in Burma, and in destroyers and submarines on the deep, dark Pacific. They had fought for freedom and they had died for our democracy, for their families, and for their comrades in arms. They were sons and brothers, husbands and fathers, uncles and cousins, friends and fellows. They were truly loved. They were sorely missed.

They were heroes, to say the least.

Moments later, Douglas Whitcomb walked onto the porch, faced out over the pond, and started to play Taps – twenty-four precious notes on a bugle – as everyone stood and sang the words.

Day is done. Gone the sun. From the lake, from the hills, from the sky. All is well, safely rest, God is nigh.

Memorial Lodge in the Fall of 2018

In the 73 years since that solemn ceremony, Memorial Lodge has been a place of celebration and joy. From classes to Candlelight and from wicker armchairs to rustic weddings, “Mem” is one of the first places people think of when they think about Camp.

In all those years, however, the story of the twelve Takodians who died in the war has never been told. While their names had always remained in front of us, their history had been lost to time.

Until now.

Memorial Lodge Dedication Plaque
Memorial Lodge Dedication Plaque as seen above the mantle prior to being restored.

Within this section, we will share the stories of each man, based on nearly a year of research and working closely with individuals, families, digital collections, libraries, archives, museums, and agencies in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France, India, and beyond. This work represents the culmination of countless hours of discovery, dozens of interviews, and the careful review of hundreds of pages of military records, books, and documentation.

On behalf of a grateful community of alumni across the nation and around the world, the stories of these warriors can finally be told in the order in which they served and made the supreme sacrifice.

For there is no greater character than the character of those who serve.

Click on a name below to get started. Stories will be published one at a time throughout May and June 2019.

 

*DNB – “Died Non Battle.” Individual died while in service but not in combat.