United by service: Military marriages a part of the Mount Soledad memorial story
By Dave Schwab
Among the more than 3,000 black granite plaques adorning Mount Soledad’s memorial walls are a number of love stories immortalized in stone.
They join the names of presidents, Hollywood stars, Medal of Honor recipients, generals and admirals, and hometown heroes.
“I’ve done close to 150 couple-type plaques,” said Joanie Miyashiro-Brennan, executive director of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial Association, who works donors personalizing memorials. “There are some cute stories of how they met.”
One of those belongs to Sgt. Arnold Robert Mitchell Sr. and Lt. Marguerite Marie Dunn Mitchell, the parents of Bill Mitchell, a La Jolla resident who represented District 1 on the City Council.
Mitchell’s parents — he a combat medic, she an Army Corp nurse — fell in love during World War I. The oft-decorated sergeant, who was in six major battles, was wounded in the final battle of World War I and carried away on a stretcher. He ended up in Little Rock, Ark., at an Army hospital where his wife-to-be was stationed.
“My mother was a lieutenant nurse and they fell in love and married in secret because it was forbidden for an officer to fraternize with an enlisted man,” said Mitchell, who retired from politics but is still active as a property manager and Realtor.
The father of the former councilman went on after WWI in the ‘20s to become a San Diego police officer and fireman who “was probably the first paramedic in San Diego,” said his son.
The elder Mitchell also owned the distinction during WWI of having rescued 13 men. Among those whose lives he saved (inscribed on his memorial plaque) was then-Major Clarence R. Huebner. His commanding officer, Huebner was later to become Lt. Gen. Huebner, who gained fame leading the attack on Utah Beach at Normandy during the Allied invasion in WWII.
The 78-year-old Mitchell, a Korean War veteran, said his mother, still a nurse when her son went off to war, continued to serve her country with distinction, working at Scripps Memorial Hospital on Prospect Street and then as a circuit nurse in the San Diego school system. Marguerite Marie Dunn Mitchell later became the county health nurse with an office in the County Administration building.
Two other Soledad Memorial love stories belong to the family of Erin Christine Feld, a former memorial association employee. Her grandparents on both sides are among the numerous tales of couples — and families — brought together during wartime whose storeis are enshrined on the plaques.
On her father’s side, Carmella and Leo Feld — a Navy nurse and a parachute rigger — met when they were both singing in the choir at a local church,” their granddaughter wrote in an e-mail.
“She was a commissioned officer and he was an enlisted man, so they were not supposed to date,” she continued. “He would pretend he had to drive her places so they could sneak off base for dates.”
Feld said her grandfather got out of the Navy, “but her grandmother was still in so they had to marry when she was on leave because they wanted to get married at home in Pittsburgh.”
On Feld’s mother’s side. Mary and Harry Chaykun — she a Wave and he a Sea Bee in the South Pacific — also share a memorial plaque testifying to the military being the venue for their union.
Feld said she “always tried to get more out of them about their meeting, etc.,” but couldn’t because her grandmother “wasn’t one to talk much about herself.”
Nonetheless, Feld said getting their plaques done “helped us learn more about their service at least ” — “Mary was also a higher rank than Harry: I always liked that the grandmothers outranked the grandfathers.”
Noting her grandparents’ plaques are side-by-side at the Soledad memorial, Feld said, “We decided they had to be near each other since the whole reason my parents — and thus their kids — are here is because of the Navy and World War II putting people who might not have met otherwise in the right place at the right time.”
For more information visit www.soledadmemorial.com.
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