Walla Walla honors native son and World War II hero General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright on November 9, 1945.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 11/18/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9215

On November 9, 1945, Walla Walla honors native son and war hero General Jonathan M. Wainwright IV (1883-1953). Over the weekend, Wainwright will ride in a parade, make speeches, and pose for pictures. The celebration comes barely three months after his release from a POW camp and two months after he is promoted to four-star general and receives the Medal of Honor from President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972). 

A Hero Returns Home

On November 9, 1945, General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright IV (1883-1953), his son Jonathan “Jack” M. Wainwright V (1913-1996), and Jack's wife, Elfrida Olsen Wainwright,  approached Walla Walla airfield in his military aircraft on their way to a weekend of events in the general's honor. Daughter-in-law Elfrida substituted for the general’s wife, Adele "Kitty" Wainwright, who was ill. It would be yet another in a series of public events for General Wainwright, who had recently been honored in New York City with a ticker-tape parade and in Washington, D.C., with the nation's highest military honor, the Medal of Honor. The Walla Walla events were especially sweet because historic Fort Walla Walla was the place of the general's birth. The town was  looking forward to the occasion and had prepared a fitting welcome. But there was a snag. Bad weather forced the general's plane, the "Bataan Avenger," to turn back and land in La Grande, Oregon.

Not to be so easily foiled, the Walla Walla event’s organizers, Mayor Herbert G. West (1904-1974) and Chamber of Commerce manager Alfred McVay (1906-2002), went into action to get the general and his party to town. They arranged seats on a Union Pacific train from La Grande to Pendleton, Oregon, and volunteers from Walla Walla  headed to Pendleton in eight cars to pick up the guests.

It had been a long time since General Wainwright's last visit to Washington. (He'd come to Seattle in 1939 when his mother died.)  A Walla Walla native son, he was born on August 23, 1883, at Fort Walla Walla, the third child of army Lieutenant Robert Powell Page Wainwright (1852-1902) and Josephine Serrell Wainwright (1852-1939). His father was a cavalry officer who served at the post, a combat veteran who would die of disease in the Philippines in 1902. Unfortunately, no one knows which of the surviving officer’s quarters at Fort Walla Walla the Wainwrights occupied. In October 1883 the family had transferred to Fort Bidwell, California.   

Walla Walla Welcomes its Native Son 

General Wainwright had a full day on Saturday, November 10. The official activities began with a morning press conference and then a downtown parade attended by large crowds despite cold weather. Following the parade the general gave a speech encouraging Victory Loan bond purchases. That afternoon he received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Whitman College. Next he toured the Veteran’s Hospital, housed in the former Fort Walla Walla, his birthplace. Here he gave a talk to assembled patients. He had one more stop, a talk at the army’s McCaw General Hospital. An evening dinner at the Grand Hotel had local prominent individuals attending, with two local heroes receiving special attention -- Captain Harold Hendricson (1919-1992) and First Lieutenant Leroy A. Bastron (1915-1979), each recognized for valor with the Silver Star.  

On Sunday, November 11, Armistice Day (renamed Veterans Day in 1954), the main event had General Wainwright delivering an Armistice Day message at Borleske Stadium, in which he called for maintaining a strong military. Following the speech, Mayor West presented him with a new Ford that the community had purchased. The vehicle had a special license plate sure to be easily recognized during his planned 10-day tour of the Pacific Northwest. The plate read “VJ 8-1945 JMW” (Victory over Japan, August 1945, Jonathan M. Wainwright).

Following the Walla Walla ceremonies,  the Wainwrights toured the Pacific Northwest and then traveled to the East Coast, with a stop in Detroit. There the Ford Motor Car Company replaced the Ford with a more expensive Lincoln.

Last Years and Legacies

In January 1946, General Wainwright assumed command of the Fourth Army, headquartered at San Antonio, Texas. The following year he retired. General Jonathan Mayhew Wainwright died on September 2, 1953. He is  buried in Arlington National Cemetery. When Adele Wainwright died in 1970,  she was buried next to him. 

In 1944 Walla Walla named the street to the Veteran’s Hospital "Gen. Wainwright Avenue" and erected a sign at the hospital entrance. A permanent monument was placed there in September 1968. In 1961 the army named a post in Fairbanks, Alaska, in his honor, and Fort Wainwright has proudly exhibited the general's uniform and other personal items.

On November 11, 1996, the Veteran’s Hospital at Fort Walla Walla was renamed the Jonathan M. Wainwright Memorial VA Medical Center. A statue of General Wainwright and a monument stand at the facility.   

Sources: Duane Schultz, Hero of Bataan: The Story of General Jonathan M. Wainwright (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981); Alfred McVay, “Wainwright of Walla Walla: A Right Guy," souvenir booklet, Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, November 1945; “Wainwright Welcomed Here,” Ibid., November 10, 1945, p.1; “Wainwright Lauded Here," Ibid., November 11, 1945, p. 1; “Gen. Wainwright Ave. Is Permanently Marked," Ibid., September 24, 1968, p. 13.

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