Lee Benson, deseret news, Lee Benson, deseret news
SALT LAKE CITY — Even though it can't be changed, history can still be easily forgotten.. Just like the present, the past needs caretaking.
I found that out last week. In search of a Memorial Day column, I wandered into Memory Grove (who said columnists can't grasp the obvious?) and as I walked by the various war monuments, I came upon the best-looking structure there: the Meditation Chapel, which might have been transplanted straight from Athens.
The striking Greek Temple-looking building is made of marble imported from Italy, France and Georgia (the state, not the republic). Intricate drawings on the stained glass windows depict the Navy, Army, Marines and Army Air Corps. And above the front portal, etched into the marble, is this inscription:
"Erected to the memory of Lt. Ross Beason Jr. and those other sons of Utah who with him trod war's last mile."
Surrounding the chapel are the names of more than 300 Utah men who died fighting in World War II whose bodies were never recovered – the memorial's single entrance requirement.
Intrigued, I set out to find out more about this young lieutenant, Ross Beason Jr., and the circumstances that brought about the erection of such a magnificent memorial.
Learning the nuts and bolts about the building was easy. It opened on July 24, 1948, a Saturday. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz was there, sent by President Truman, and some 10,000 people were in attendance.
But nearly 64 years later, no one seemed to know much of anything about the building's namesake, Lt. Beason.
Not the Utah Heritage Foundation, which takes care of the facility and conducts tours of the chapel every summer. No one there reported any contact with anyone associated with the Beason family for years.
Not the newspaper archival accounts, which state that Beason was born in Salt Lake City, that he died when his fighter plane crashed off the Italian coast in 1944, and that the chapel was financed by his family, but stopped short of more family detail.
Nor did Westminster College have any current information about the Beasons, despite the fact that the school has a Ross Beason Memorial Scholarship established years ago by the Ross Beason Trust.
Lisa Actor, Westminster's associate vice president of advancement, said that the scholarship is one of the school's largest endowments. Last year 16 deserving students were given Ross Beason Memorial Scholarships of $2,500 each, awarded annually on the basis of good character and financial need. But the school has had no contact with the Beason family for years.
So much memorial to Ross Beason Jr., and so little memory of Ross Beason Jr.
To try and find out more, I went to something that wasn't even a figment of anyone's imagination in World War II: the Internet.
I typed "Ross Beason" into the search engine and soon had information about three people with that name: Ross Beason Sr., who was born in 1887 and died in 1964; his son, Ross Beason Jr., born in 1921 and died in 1944, and his son, Ross Beason III, born in 1944.
I did an advanced search on Ross Beason III and found an address and phone number in Arizona.
I called the number.
Ross Beason III answered.
And just like that, the past caught up to the present.
He was 6 weeks old when his dad the fighter pilot died, Ross III said, and he was 4 years old when the building his grandfather built to honor his father was dedicated in Salt Lake City's Memory Grove.
"I was just a little tyke in short pants, but I was there," he remembered, "as was my mother."
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