BY DUANE VACHON – Not all of the heroes at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific have a chest full of bravery medals. Indeed there are far more who were quiet achievers, quiet heroes.
I am fortunate as my job brings me into contact every day with the families of many of these quiet heroes. Some of them have shared with me how their husband or father or son was a hero.
All of these men answered the call to defend their country and many paid the ultimate price, their names were not splashed across our TV screens, they didn’t have memorials put up in their home towns. They simply and quietly went about the business of fighting for our freedom and in many cases making the ultimate sacrifice of laying down their life for our freedom.
This is the story of one of those heroes, Stanley Armour Dunham, born in Wichita, Kansas, the second child of Ralph Waldo Emerson Dunham, Sr. and Ruth Lucille Armour. His father’s ancestors had settled in Kempton, Indiana in the 1840s, before relocating to Kansas. His parents were married in Wichita at a home on South Saint Francis St. and opened The Travelers’ Cafe on William Street, sandwiched between the old firehouse and the old Wichita City Hall.
In 1926, at age 8, Stanley discovered his mother’s body after she had committed suicide at the age of 26. Following his mother’s suicide, his father abandoned the family. Stanley and his older brother Ralph Emerson Dunham were then sent to live with their maternal grandparents in El Dorado, Kansas. A rebellious teenager, Stanley allegedly punched his high school principal and spent some time drifting, hopping rail cars to Chicago, then California, then back again. Stanley married Madelyn Lee Payne on May 5, 1940, the night of Madelyn’s senior prom.
Stanley enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army on January 18, 1942, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and served in the European Theatre of World War II with the 1830th Ordnance Supply and Maintenance Company, Aviation. During D-Day, this unit helped to support the 9th Air Force. They were deployed in France six weeks after D-Day.
Stanley’s older brother, Ralph Emerson Dunham, landed at Normandy’s Omaha Easy Red beach on D-Day plus four.
Before the Invasion of Normandy, the brothers once met accidentally while Stanley went in search of rations at the Hotel Russell in London, where Ralph happened to be staying. Madelyn gave birth to a daughter they named Stanley Ann, who was later known as Ann, at St. Francis Hospital in Wichita on November 29, 1942. During the war, Madelyn Stanley worked on a Boeing B-29 assembly line in Wichita.
After two years of military service in Europe (1943–1945), Stanley was discharged from the U.S. Army on August 30, 1945. After the war, the family moved to Berkeley, California and then eventually back to El Dorado, Kansas, where Stanley managed a furniture store. In 1955, Stanley and Madelyn moved to Seattle, Washington, where he worked as a salesman for the Standard-Grunbaum Furniture Company, and where their daughter Ann attended Eckstein Middle School.
They lived in an apartment in the Wedgewood Estates in the Wedgwood, Seattle neighborhood. In 1956 they moved to the Shorewood Apartments on Mercer Island, a Seattle suburb, where they lived until 1960 and where their daughter Ann attended Mercer Island High School. In 1957 Stanley began working for the Doces Majestic Furniture Company.
The Dunhams then moved to Honolulu, Hawaii, where Stanley found a better furniture store opportunity.
Madelyn started working at the Bank of Hawaii in 1960, and was promoted as one of the first female bank vice presidents in 1970. In 1970s Honolulu, both women and the minority white population were routinely the target of discrimination.
Stanley’s grandson said that one of his earliest memories is of sitting on his grandfather’s shoulders as the astronauts from one of the Apollo missions arrived at Hickam Air Force Base after a successful splashdown.
Ann’s marriage fell apart, the young grandson spent four years with his mother and stepfather in Jakarta, Indonesia. He returned to Honolulu at age 10 to live with his maternal grandparents in the Makiki district and enrolled in the fifth grade at the Punahou School.
The tuition fees for the prestigious preparatory school were paid with the aid of scholarships. Ann would later come back to Hawaii and pursue graduate studies; she eventually earned a PhD in anthropology and went on to be employed on development projects in Indonesia and around the world helping impoverished women obtain microfinance. When she returned to Indonesia in 1977 for her Masters’ fieldwork, her son stayed in the United States with his grandparents.
During this time the grandson and grandfather spent a great deal of time together. The grandson learned lessons about life and social responsibility that would help shape him into the person he would grow up to be.
The grandfather was a hero to his grandson, as well as a role model and teacher. It has been said that the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. It must have been a good tree because the grandson’s name is Barack Obama the 44th President of the United States.
Stanley Dunham lies at rest in the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in Court 1 wall B niche 440. His grandson visits him whenever he is in town.
Duane A Vachon PhD works at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific. He is the author of “Gems From The Antipodes: 12 Collections of Faith-Focusing Insights” He also writes a weekly column in The Big Island Reporter firstname.lastname@example.org