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Nearly 86 Years Later, Centralia Veteran Set to Receive Graveside Honors

The Chronicle - 4/20/2017

April 20--At the age of 16, Arthur Russell Nelson gave up the comforts of home and enlisted in the United States Navy. It was a decision rare enough that Nelson's mother was required to sign a waiver to giver her son permission to serve his country.

Nelson, born and raised in Centralia, spent four years in the Navy before tragedy struck. His demise didn't come at the end of a barrel in some strange land an ocean's width away. Instead, he was killed while working as a logger in the Longview area while home on leave on July 17, 1931.

Following his untimely death, Nelson was laid to rest at Mountain View Cemetery in Centralia, but he never received any kind of recognition from the United States government for his service to the country. Instead, his final resting place was marked only by a simple stone that became hidden by weeds and overshadowed by towering headstones, many of which have toppled over themselves over the past eight and a half decades.

Jim Nelson, a Mossyrock native who now lives in Bellevue, never knew his uncle Arthur, but he knew of him through family stories. As the years went by, the lack of reverence began to wear on him. Being a military veteran himself, Jim Nelson knows firsthand the importance of feeling appreciated by one's country and countrymen for selfless services rendered.

With that pebble of injustice stuck in his craw, Jim Nelson set out with the help of his sister, Agnes Mary Jane Pedersen, of Centralia, in order to right the longstanding wrong. Now, with one and a half years of relentless efforts in contacting government officials behind him, Arthur Nelson is finally set to receive graveside honors.

At 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 2, Nelson's grave will be rededicated during a public ceremony with an official military headstone, a gun salute and a rendition of "Taps."

Despite the happy ending that is well within sight, Nelson says it was a long and difficult task. For one, Nelson noted that the request for a veteran's headstone was originally turned down by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Don't ask me why. They claimed that he had a marker, but you couldn't even see it and it wasn't a gravestone," said Nelson. "My sister down there in Centralia filed the paperwork in October 2015. I found out a year later that we'd been turned down."

With their initial attempt so unceremoniously rebuked, Nelson and Pedersen filed an appeal and summoned the support of state politicians and veterans groups in order to help champion their cause. With their goal nearly complete, Nelson was sure to thank 3rd District Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and 9th District Congressman Adam Smith as well as U.S. Sen. Patty Murray for their efforts in changing the official stance at the VA.

"We also wish to Honor Local Members of VFW Post 2200 and American Legion Post 17 for their participation," wrote Nelson in a letter to The Chronicle.

The dedication ceremony for Arthur Nelson's new gravestone will be open to the general public, and Jim Nelson is hoping there will be a strong contingent of local veterans present to share in the moment that's been so long in arriving.

"Loyalty is very important to me because I'm a military man. I'm not doing this for me. I'm doing this because a U.S. Navy veteran is lying there without a gravestone," said Nelson, whose son is also a military man currently stationed at Fort Lewis. "It is historic since it is 86 years later and I wanted to give some recognition to those wonderful people at the VFW and the American Legion post there in Centralia who do so much to honor veterans. We don't say thank you enough."

Nelson is currently working on a number of other historic military burial cases around the country. About four years ago, he wrote a book called "Rock Hill" that tells the story of a young man growing up during World War II. Nelson's own military service came about when he was drafted into the Army in 1961. His tenure in the military included a stint at Fort Lewis, and although he didn't always get the job he wanted most, he is grateful for all that he learned during his time of service.

"Back when I was a young man and my friends would get in trouble the judge would say, 'Well, do you want do two years at Green Hill or join Uncle Sam's Army?' It was a no brainer so a lot of them chose to join the military. And you know what? It made men out of them," said Nelson.

Mostly, Nelson is grateful to have escaped the grizzly fate of his patriotic uncle, who he only learned about through family stories.

"It was the highball era in the woods," said Nelson. "They killed a man a day in the woods back in those days."

The dedication ceremony for Arthur Nelson's new gravestone will be held at 11 a.m. on April 22 at Mountain View Cemetery. All community members are invited, particularly active or veteran members of the United States military. The service will include a ceremonial gun salute, a message by Chaplain Gary Graveline and a performance of "Taps" by a military trumpeter.

Mountain View Cemetery is located at 1113 Caveness Drive, Centralia.


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