Port Angeles Federal Building gets a hero's name
Robin G. Graf, left, assistant regional administrator for the U.S. General Services Administration, and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks , D-Belfair, applaud at the unveiling of a plaque to mark the renaming of the federal building in Port Angeles as the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building. -- Photo by Keith Thorpe/Peninsula Daily News
By Paul Gottlieb, Peninsula Daily News
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The brick building at 138 W. First St. is now the Richard B. Anderson Federal Building, named after a Sequim High School graduate who died saving others on the Pacific island of Roi Namur in World War II.
Anderson, a Marine private first class, was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor after he grabbed a grenade that he had tossed and which had rolled back into the shell crater sheltering him and three other Marines.
He tucked it into his stomach, protecting the three other men from the blast.
It was Feb. 1, 1944, Anderson's first day of combat. He was 22.
Like others among "the greatest generation," Anderson was an ordinary individual "who performed an extraordinary feat of bravery, dying in the process," said Port Angeles Mayor Gary Braun at the dedication ceremony.
Said Congressman Norm Dicks, who represents the North Olympic Peninsula:
"I hope that everyone who enters or passes by this building here in Port Angeles will have the occasion to reflect on the ultimate sacrifice that this young Marine instinctively made."
Harry Pearce, the only man still alive today who was in the shell crater, wrote a letter that was read at the ceremony.
Housebound in Hanover, Kansas, with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the 87-year-old said in a letter read at the ceremonies:
"I have asked myself 1,000 times, 'Why me, O Lord?'
"Perhaps only to retell the story of his sacrifice so that others might live. Is this not the story of the life of Jesus?"
Signing his name "Hap," Pearce called Anderson a "gung-ho Marine" and said Anderson, "along with others, have allowed this old man to live a full and useful life . . . "
Dicks, D-Belfair, helped unveil the Richard. B. Anderson Federal Building plaque after he, Braun and others spoke at the building that now houses various federal services, including Social Security, U.S. Customs and Homeland Security and a museum belonging to the Clallam County Historical Society.
Standing under a portable canopy, more than 100 veterans, community leaders and others heard Anderson's bravery recounted.
Those included Clallam County Commissioners Mike Chapman, Mike Doherty and Steve Tharinger and Port Angeles City Council members Cherie Kidd, Don Perry and Karen Rogers.
The audience was replete with uniformed veterans.
The color guard was from the U.S. Marine security guard at the Navy submarine base in Bangor.
The veterans shuffled almost in a full-circle salute as they followed the slow march of the color guard from the building parking lot to the side of the speakers' platform to begin the ceremony.
Master of Ceremonies Robin Graf of the General Services Administration, which manages federal buildings, began the hour-long dedication by saying it "represents deep gratitude to all veterans."
Graf noted that Tuesday also was the 63rd anniversary of V-J Day, marking Japan's official surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.
Selfless action, service
Braun lauded the dedication of the building, already on the National Register of Historic Places, "as a symbolic way of recognizing [Anderson's] selfless action in service to his country."
"Today's action, affixing his name to this federal building as a memorial, will allow Private First Class Richard B. Anderson to be here in spirit, and to serve as both a personal inspiration and as a reminder of the many who have died to protect the freedom and way of life we cherish here in the United States of America."
"Anderson "could have easily turned away, covered his head and run," Braun said.
"He might have even had a chance to save himself, but he didn't."
Messages also were read from Gov. Chris Gregoire by her husband, Mike, and from Sens. Patty Murray, D-Freeland, and Maria Cantwell, D-Mountlake Terrace, by their representatives.
Murray and Dicks sponsored legislation to name the building. President Bush signed it into law July 15.
Anderson was born in Tacoma in 1921 and was raised in Agnew, just east of Port Angeles, where he attended Macleay School before graduating from Sequim High School.
He was living in Port Angeles when he enlisted in the Marines, becoming a mortarman and ending up on Roi-Namur on the Kwajalein Atoll, 2,100 miles southwest of Hawaii, in an area now part of the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
Roth led effort
Terry Roth is the custodian of Anderson's medal at the request of Anderson's late sister, Mary Roderick-Anderson.
Graf and others thanked him for leading the multi-year effort to get the building renamed.
Roth— who is running in the Nov. 4 general election as a Republican for county commissioner against Chapman, who is running as an independent — proposed naming the building after Anderson seven years ago.
Now that his goal has been accomplished, "I feel great," Roth said.
"I feel a commitment has been fulfilled. In a community that has so many veterans, the naming of the building for a Medal of a Honor recipient was appropriate."
One of those veterans was Dean Geddes, who will be 87 in October.
He sat with other veterans attending the ceremony.
A former sergeant in the 11th Army Airborne, Geddes was in the honor guard of Gen. Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV while Wainwright, himself a Medal of Honor recipient, witnessed the Japanese signing terms of surrender aboard the Missouri, Geddes said.
So it was doubly special for him, honoring V-J Day and Anderson.
"It's nice to see a veteran from our area get the recognition," Geddes said.
Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: September 02. 2008 9:00PM