Hoquiam honors late-Maj. Gen. Eldon A. Bargewell

Many of Hoquiam’s veterans, residents and officials honored the late Major General Eldon A. Bargewell — a true VIP to not only the city of Hoquiam, and Grays Harbor, but to the country.

After two tours in Vietnam, a total of 39 years in the Army and a retirement from military service in 2006, the Special Forces Army Airborne Ranger was the most decorated active duty soldier. In 2010, he was the recipient of the Bull Simons Award, given by U.S. Special Operations Command to the person who exemplifies the espirit, values and skills of the special operations warrior, according to the Dedication of Delta Park program.

And what a day to honor such a special person. The weather was idyllic — mid 60s with clear blue skies. And it was Armed Forces Day, which on Aug. 31, 1949 replaced the separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days, according to the Department of Defense website. Then-President Harry S. Truman “praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas,” just as the military officials present for Bargewell’s dedication did on Saturday.

Honoring Bargewell is not just about what the Hoquiam native accomplished during his decades in the Army — including being awarded with the Army Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest medal for valor, and being awarded the Purple Heart four times. In fact, retired Lt. Gen. Lawson W. Magruder III, Bargewell’s longtime friend and colleague who served with him during the Vietnam War and who is in the Army Ranger Hall of Fame, would probably say the late Bargewell wouldn’t like the focus to be solely on his accomplishments. Bargewell’s humility is one of the elements that Magruder loved about his friend.

What Bargewell means to his wife Marian, their children, the men with whom he served, and the Harbor are the important aspects that made Bargewell who he was until his death in 2019. Magruder concisely described his friend.

“The definition of a hero,” Magruder said.

There were 378 people, local businesses and organizations who donated $378,000 in order to honor Bargewell with a statue bearing his name at MG Eldon A. Bargewell Delta Park, according to Jessica Hoover of Grays Harbor Community Foundation — the nonprofit that handled the funding. The park is on the triangle formed by Emerson Avenue, N and Maple streets, in Hoquiam.

“It reiterates how special Grays Harbor is, that on a sunny Saturday so many showed up here,” Hoover said.

The donors sent in money to honor the troops — either the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who died on the battlefield, in the air, in the seas, or after their service years later. That total dedication shows how much Bargewell affected his hometown of Hoquiam.

While the donated money for the park is important — Hoquiam City Administrator Brian Shay said it will also cover future maintenance to keep it looking clean — the number pales in comparison to the size of the crowd who paid their respects to Bargewell. Shay estimated 350 to 400 people showed up to the dedication, which was at noon on Saturday.

Ten future soldiers paid their respects to the general as they recited their oath of enlistment to Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, commanding general of I Corps and Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Before the dedication, there were flags lined precisely throughout downtown Hoquiam. They surrounded the park, and were placed meticulously all along Riverside Avenue. The dedication itself was a star-spangled event as countless veterans and their families filled the chairs to honor the late general. An hour before the dedication, America’s First Corps Brass Music Quintet played a variety of military songs for the guests, as well as “America the Beautiful.” Lauren Fagerstedt, Miss Grays Harbor, sang the national anthem and “The Ballad of the Green Berets.”

One of the many distinguished guests at the event was Kurt Muse, who Bargewell helped save. According to Muse, Bargewell planned for Muse’s rescue from Panama’s Carcel Modelo Prison in “Operation Acid Gambit” in December 1989. Muse had been a prisoner there for nine months, and according to Military.com, he was supposed to be killed before he was rescued.

Muse, donning a light-colored hat with a black band over the brim, and a sharp suit, spoke briefly about Bargewell.

“He was a very dear friend,” Muse said. “He helped save my life.”

Muse complimented the effort to make a park for his hero.

“It’s wonderful and I think that your town has gone above and beyond the call of duty here,” Muse said. “And I think we’re all grateful that you took the time to plan this, and dedicate the resources to do it and to come out in support of it. He’s a great man, he’s a great son of Hoquiam and I’m proud of him, and I hope you support the park.”

The strong support for the park seems to pale in comparison to what Bargewell did for the country, which isn’t a slight at all. Bargewell was just that good. The statue, complete with finite facial details of Bargewell’s face, shows many of his accomplishments. Rip Caswell built the statue.

What separates Bargewell are his other qualities.

“Eldon was the epitome of a professional,” Magruder said during his speech.

Magruder also spoke about a few other aspects that made Bargewell the man he was through quotes from other accomplished solders. One of the quotes Magruder used — he referred to them as testimonies — in his speech was from former Bravo Company “peer,” and later Commander of the 75th Ranger Regiment, Major General Jim Jackson:

“Eldon was the true example of the ‘quiet professional.’” the quote stated. “He lived by the standards he expected all to follow, and he did so without fanfare or need for recognition. Given his past service and the decorations he received, he was very unassuming and never talked about his past or his accomplishments. His approach to leadership was straightforward and real. He expected success and did everything within his power to make it happen.”

And then there’s what Bargewell did to address the hell that is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Magruder provided a quote from Lt. Gen. Jamie Jarrard, who is a former Delta Force commander.

“By the time I came along, I asked him to come and provide a talk about PTSD to our unit members — and he was perfect,” the quote states. “He obviously had plenty of credibility with all of the lore about his actions in Vietnam, but his transparency and authentic personal stories about the need to get help by even the toughest warriors had the entire audience captivated. And it was the exact message we needed to hear. It was another side of Gen. Bargewell that few, if any, of us had ever seen. I will always remember that night — and my opportunity to walk alongside a true hero — forever.”

Magruder was one of the several highly accomplished military officials and veterans to speak about Bargewell and what he means to the country and its military. The esteemed group included Brunson, and Navy Seal Admiral Eric Olson, who was commissioned in 1973, the same year as Bargewell. As Olson pointed out with reverence to the late general, even though he was commissioned the same day, Bargewell already had served five years in the Army.

“It’s such an honor to be with you on such a magnificent and important day,” Olson said. “Look around, all of the active duty soldiers behind you, they have your back as always. I think it’s always a great pleasure to see Green Berets march in formation. It doesn’t happen very often, but these guys did it today like they do it every day. Thanks to all of you who have traveled so far to represent the active military.”

Olson also thanked Mike Vining and Jay Fry, from the committee who helped make the dedication possible, as well as the city of Hoquiam and “beyond.” And then he thanked Marian and her family.

Marian thanked the crowd for showing up.

“It means more to me than I can even say,” she said, before taking the time to compliment Hoquiam by calling it “the friendliest city.”

She also spoke about the kindness of Hoquiam Mayor Ben Winkelman, who earlier had paid for her family’s breakfast at The Jitter House.

Marian spoke briefly about the dedication after most of the crowd left.

“It’s hard to put into words,” she said. “Gosh … amazing, just the support of the town and military, I’m so appreciative. It was just a beautiful event, and something that would have meant so much to Eldon and it means so much to me and my family.”

Marian loved the quotes the various military officials had about her husband’s character.

“He was an amazing man,” she said. “He always did and stood up for what he thought was right, and cared for his men in the military. … All of them fit him exactly, and they were excellent. I wish we could get a copy of the speeches. His bravery and just his character. He had good character.”

Marian said how her children who showed up with her were “very touched,” by the dedication.

“They’re very appreciative,” Marian said. “They loved their daddy and respected his leadership ability. Just touched by the whole situation. Very appreciative. In fact, they said they want to move out here.”

Marian shared how her husband wouldn’t agree to a book about him, despite numerous attempts by people who wanted to tell his story.

“There is nothing to say,” Marian said about her husband’s response of, “I was just doing my job.”

To donate to the the MG Eldon Bargewell Memorial Fund — 100% of donations go to the Delta Park Project and are tax-deductible, use the following link: https://eldonbargewell.org/donate/. You can mail donations to The Grays Harbor Community Fund at 707 J St., Hoquiam, WA, 98550. Make checks out to: GH Community Fund. Address the memo to: MG Bargewell Memorial. Or go to The Grays Harbor Community Foundation’s website: https://www.gh-cf.org/online-donation/.

Contact Reporter Matthew N. Wells at matthew.wells@thedailyworld.com.