Remembering those who have fallen

It didn’t start out being a story. It was a family first — a Vashon family. There were four boys, Vashon High School graduates. But it was the war that turned it into a story.

Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Bacchus had a business and a home on Vashon since their move to the Island in 1925. It was August 1943 when the boys were last at home together. The high point was when they all went sailing in a boat that the oldest, Don, had built.

As with the majority of young men of the time, they were in the service. Two were Army and two were Navy. Don, the boat builder and the eldest of the four boys, was married and a sergeant with the Army in Italy and Germany. Tom, at 24, was a Naval aviator flying the Hellcat off a carrier in the Pacific. Next in line was 23-year-old Lad, in training with the Army Air Corps. Sid, the youngest at 19, was training with the Navy.

By the fall of 1944 Americans were seeing photos of the war in Life magazine and listening to radio reports of Allied advances. In the Pacific, Gen. MacArthur was wading ashore in the Philippine Islands, fulfilling his “I shall return” promise. In Europe, the fight was moving from France into the Fatherland itself.

But on Vashon, the Bacchus family was getting the news of Tom’s death. His Hellcat was knocked out of the sky by enemy anti-aircraft fire in the Philippines.

Then a short two months later, the family got word from what was then called the War Department that the Navy plane that Lad was hitching a ride on was overdue. He was on his way home on leave. They later learned that the plane went down on Chetco Peak in Oregon. Lad was buried on the mountain near the crash site.

Here is a sentence from an article in an unidentified newspaper: “There was a memorial service last February 16 for the two dead servicemen in the Vashon Presbyterian Church; and their parents put away their grief where none can see, for the bravery of the Bacchus boys had its origin in the hearts of parents who are unmistakably strong.”

More than 60 years later, Brett Bacchus, Sid’s second son, and I set out to uncover the details of this story. We started at the memorial behind what is now the Vashon Senior Center building. Set in the garden wall are two bronze plaques, one for Tom and one for Lad. There used to be benches there, back when the building housed the Vashon Library.

Walk back there when you get a chance; pull a few weeds. Maybe that’s what Brett and I are up to, pulling a few weeds in Vashon Island’s collective memory. There is more to do. We are in the process of getting Tom and Lad’s military records from the Department of Defense. A road trip is being talked about to visit the Oregon crash site this summer.

It’s a story of brotherhood. It’s a story of bravery and service. It’s a sad story. Above all, it’s a story of sacrifice and a family that gave more than its share. Memorial Day is the day set aside to remember and reflect on such things. But afterward we need to put these remembrances to good use. The Bacchus family story is part of a larger story, a thread in the global tapestry of the 1940s. Time moves forward and life goes on, but the knowledge of our history is key in establishing successful strategies for our future.

Thanks to the Vashon Maury Island Heritage Association for help in research.

— Phil Volker is a 1st Vice Commander from American Legion Post 159.

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