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The Finding of the Cal Poly WWII Memorial Plaques
And Mounting at the War Memorial Wall of Honor Ceremony

group photo from World War II plaques dedication ceremonyThis story started about 1958-59, 45 years ago, when I visited the Cal Poly office of a colleague who was leaving Cal Poly College for another job. (Cal Poly was a college then). My friend was cleaning out his office and taking stuff to the Cal Poly dump. (Some will remember the dump located on the right side of the Poly Canyon). He asked me if I wanted any of the "junk" he was throwing away.

A brass plaque caught my eye and he gave it to me. For about 30 years, the plaque was hung in the back yard. President Bob Kennedy and his wife, Mary, were our guests for dinner one night. He noticed the plaque and suggested I see if Polly Harrigan of Cal Poly University Advancement would want the plaque, as he felt it had a historical value.

I contacted then-Vice President Bill Boldt, and he was excited to see this bit of Cal Poly history. I paid to have the plaque cleaned up and re-plated and gave it to Cal Poly as a gift. (Note photo that was taken at Bill Boldt's request).

Several years later, another memorial plaque was found in a storage room of the ROTC. This plaque was given to the university by the graduating class of 1946. The plaque honored the "58 Cal Poly students who died in WW II." Because I had worked with the ROTC on several previous occasions, they asked me to help to honor what these plaques represented by raising money and getting the plaques mounted on the campus.

These memorial plaques can now be viewed today at the Memorial Plaza between the Administration Building and the Student Union and also on the inside wall of the Kennedy Library down from the check-out desk.

Working with the Cal Poly administration, the plaques were mounted at the Memorial Plaza during the 2001 Centennial celebration on Veterans Day in November. Especially helpful were the Alumni Association, Kim Gannon; the Development Offices, Polly Harrigan and Bill Boldt; the ROTC, Major Paul Beuchner; the San Luis Obispo American Legion, Commander Bob Lee and Cal Poly Graduate Jack Spaulding; and, President Baker, who wrote several letters inviting speakers and guests for the unveiling ceremony.

A second plaque is mounted on the wall of the first floor hallway of the Kennedy Library. The history of one of the plaque, according to the "Mustang Daily" newspaper of Thursday Oct. 30, 1947, indicates that President Jullian A. McPhee received a bronze plaque before a crowd of 2,000 students assembled in the football stadium from Lt. Commander Vance D. Lewis USNR, a member of the faculty. The plaque was signed by James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.

The College was praised for the cooperation it gave the Navy during the period from January 1945 through February 1946, during which more than 4,690 naval aviation personnel were trained in two programs.

Following the unveiling ceremony in 2001, letters of appreciation were received from throughout the nation from relatives of the of the 58 Cal Poly students who died in WW II and some from the thousands of men who were trained as Navy pilots. Some of the letters were from local people including journalist Herb Kamm, retired Marine Major and Cal Poly faculty union leader Jim Murphy, veteran Joe Navoni, who went through the flight- training school, Betty Middlecamp, sister of Elwyne Righetti a Cal Poly alumni who died in Europe during WW II, Admiral D. Ellison, Superintendent of the Navy Postgraduate School, Col Kevin Rice C.O. of the Defense language institute and the Presidio of Monterey, Presidents of various local retired Military Organizations, Congresswomen Capps, and many other.

I hope you will take time to visit both of these plaque locations on the campus and contemplate the supreme sacrifice these Cal Poly students gave during WW II to keep our country free.

 

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