WWII McCaw hospital brings back memories, yields familial tie

By ANNIE CHARNLEY EVELAND | Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, Wash. | Published: October 23, 2013

Dig around deep enough in the roots of your family tree and maybe you’ll find a horse thief, said awry Bruce McCaw of Touchet. No such luck here, but distinguished, hardworking folk do emerge.

The McCaws have been in the Walla Walla Valley for more than 150 years, many as farmers with lots of kids. When he was a youngster, a school bus driver told Bruce there was only one student on the bus route who wasn’t a McCaw.

Bruce is a semiretired farmer, Walla Walla High School Class of 1946, Washington State University Class of 1950 in agricultural economics. He saw military service with two years of active duty in Okinawa during the Korean War and was in the reserves for 25 years.

On the family’s farm on Frog Hollow road they had 300 head of dairy cows and raised turkeys.

But for as long as he can remember, Bruce wondered what his relationship was to the Army doctor for whom World-War II-era McCaw General Hospital was named. It was located between Poplar and Rose streets, the current site of businesses such as Valley Transit, Key Technology, Crown Paper, Janitorial Supply and the HF Group bindery.

Turns out local McCaws do have a familial connection and it’s all due to the sleuthing of Bruce’s nephew and niece, Mike and Janet McCaw, who traced their McCaw lineage to Scotland.

It means going back in the ancestral branches to James McCaw, a surgeon of Newton Stuart, Wightonshire, Scotland, who came to Virginia in 1771 and at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War was commissioned a captain of militia.

The fifth in a continuous line of Virginia physicians dating to the 1700s in Scotland, McCaw hospital’s namesake, Brig. Gen. Walter Drew McCaw, was the youngest of nine children born to Dr. James Brown McCaw.

Born in Richmond, Va., on Feb. 10, 1863, Walter benefited from private tutors and by age 19 had earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Virginia in 1882.

He earned a second medical degree two years later from Columbia University and then passed the U.S. Army Medical Corps exam in 1884. While in the military, he fought during the Spanish-American War and received a Silver Star for valor under fire in the battle of Santiago. Duties took him to New York as a surgeon and to the Philippine Islands. For 12 years, he was posted with the office of the Surgeon General in Washington, D.C., as librarian for the Army Medical Library. He retired on Feb. 10, 1927. Never married, his home was managed by a favorite niece until he died on July 7, 1939.

Historylink.org notes that the 1,502-bed McCaw hospital near Fort Walla Walla opened on May 5, 1943.

The U-B in 2011 reported that “During World War II, wounded, active duty soldiers were treated at an adjacent hospital — the largest and most short-lived of any in Walla Walla’s history. McCaw Hospital was built in 1942 and started accepting patients early the following year. Spread out over 189 acres in the area of what now is the Poplar Street extension, the complex consisted of 88 buildings and averaged about 1,000 employees.”

Historylink.org added that “The standard hospital layout with widely separated wards (blocks of large barracks-style buildings) proved wise at McCaw when, in June 1944, a fire damaged the headquarters building but spread no further. The only casualty was a Walla Walla fireman, Albert Schonleber (1897-1944), who died of a heart attack shortly after the blaze was controlled.”

Both Baxter General Hospital in Spokane and McCaw had German prisoner-of-war camps attached, according to historylink.org.

2nd Lt. George W. Bailey of Seattle was in residence for five months at McCaw while being treated for a serious leg wound received while he was a navigator aboard a B-17 Flying Fortress over Germany. At a retreat parade in September 1945 at McCaw, George received the Silver Star for valor in action.

The hospital also saw a number of weddings, including that of Walla Wallan Darl Sawyer to Arnold Bjorklund, a Seattle Medal of Honor recipient, who recovered for eight months at McCaw after seven months at other facilities. Arnold “noticed an attractive woman visiting a fellow soldier.” It was Darl, there to see her brother. The couple wed in May 1945 and moved to the west side of the Cascades, according to historylink.org.

While they were gathered in McCaw’s Red Cross Recreation Hall on Nov. 10, 1945, Walla Walla native Gen. Jonathan M. Wainwright IV encouraged patients to strive to full recovery and take care of themselves. He was still weak, recovering from POW captivity under Japanese forces. The last patient left the hospital on Nov. 25, 1945, after the facility treated 14,000 patients during the war.

At that time, Lt. Maxwell W. Steel Jr., who was acclaimed for his surgical skills while at McCaw, later was promoted to major general and became deputy surgeon general of the Army. Medical specialties at McCaw were orthopedics, general surgery and neuropsychiatry.

After McCaw closed, its buildings were sold. Historylink.org reports that “on March 20, 1947, two of the structures were moved across the road to (what is now the Jonathan M. Wainwright VA Medical Center). The McCaw chapel was one of the relocated buildings and survives today.” Another of the buildings became part of Ingle Chapel Church in Milton-Freewater.

McCaw farming heritage here spans generations, as evidenced by information Bruce shared about his family. Robert H. McCaw and cousin Naomi Stanley Kulp both wrote about their ancestry.

Bruce is descended from William and Sarah McCaw of Henderson County, Ill., who in the spring of 1847 headed west on the Oregon Trail. A trunk in which their toddler Mary Jane McCaw hid during an Indian attack remains in their family. The McCaws reached Whitman Mission in fall 1847. Their cousin, Josiah Osborn, had built a lumber mill several miles into the Blue Mountains.

The McCaws continued the arduous journey to the Willamette Valley and arrived at Oregon City on Nov. 29, 1847, the day of the Whitman Massacre. Young cousin Nancy Osborn and her family survived the Indian attack while secreted below floorboards in Marcus and Narcissa Whitman’s home.

A spinning wheel Josiah made for Sarah is now displayed at Fort Walla Walla Museum. The McCaws established a farm and raised their six children in Linn County. Forty-five years later, the elder McCaws followed their children and moved to Prescott.

At 19, their daughter Mary wed Sam Erwin. The Erwins settled in 1860 in the Touchet Valley at the home and farm Sam had established. Other sons and daughters of William and Sarah followed the Erwins over the next few decades and owned large wheat and cattle ranches in the area.

Bruce’s great-grandfather Edwin McCaw, born in 1818, came to this area in the 1880s. Bruce’s dad, Dwight McCaw, was born in 1900. Their branch of the McCaws moved in 1935 to farm in the Frog Hollow/Touchet area, a place where loudly croaking frogs can be heard all over the Valley every spring.

Flanked by the American and U.S. Marine Corps flags, Christopher Danforth received his commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the Corps on July 20, outdoors at Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Wash.

Close friend and fellow 2nd Lt. Vincent Purchase presided over the commissioning ceremony before many relatives and friends, said Walla Wallan Barbara Danforth, Christopher’s grandmother.

During the ceremony, his parents, Walla Walla Valley residents David and Nancy Carey Danforth, pinned gold bars on his uniform. The ceremony closed when he returned his first salute given him by his grandfather, Robert “Bob” Danforth, 83, a former enlisted Marine.

Christopher gave Bob a silver dollar — a Marine Corps tradition, Barbara said. Using his official sword, Christopher cut the cake during the reception.

An alumnus of Eastside Catholic High School in Sammamish, Christopher graduated in May with bachelor’s in sociology with a specialization in criminal justice from the University of Portland and then in July 2012 from the Marine Corps Officer Candidates School in Quantico, Va.

“Acceptance into OCS is not guaranteed,” Barbara said. “It is a long and arduous journey for which one must apply and be selected and one can be removed at any time for failure to perform. Preparation for OCS is one’s own responsibility and involves physical and knowledge-based training and performance.”

Christopher’s parents live in Redmond, Wash., but grew up here. Nancy graduated in 1978 from Walla Walla High School, the same year David graduated from Waitsburg High School. They both graduated from Washington State University in 1982. Nancy teaches fourth grade at St. Louise Elementary School in Bellevue, Wash., and David is general manager of PACCAR Parts, globally. In addition to Barbara and Bob, who died Aug. 6, Walla Walla grandparents attending the commissioning were David and Maralyn Carey.

Christopher currently works in Portland awaiting orders to attend the Marine Corps’ The Basic School for 26 weeks in Quantico.

Contact Annie Charnley Eveland at annieeveland@wwub.com.


©2013 Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.)

Visit Walla Walla Union-Bulletin (Walla Walla, Wash.) at union-bulletin.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


comments Join the conversation and share your voice!  

from around the web