By Diana L. Chapman
After living in San Pedro for some twenty years now and having a great understanding of the snail pace of Los Angeles, it was a great pleasure for me to walk around the three foot tall, Palos Verdes stone fence that now squares off a military cemetery for dogs.
It might seem a small endeavor, but as it flourishes, it will show how one determined resident, one determined museum director and the residents of this town can paw their way to the top much quicker if they embark on projects on their own rather than depend on the city.
By the end of January, our community should see the complete $28,000 plus refurbishment of the Fort MacArthur sentry cemetery – a graveyard that honored the animals, mostly guard dogs that served us during the Cold War. Most were put down as they were unable to return to the regular post of being a pet after being dutiful and dangerous guard dogs, canines such as Jack, Cheetah and Pancho.
The cemetery refurbishment is a small, but symbolic step toward cleaning up our problematic troubles with Los Angeles ailing parks, which, pointedly might need more help from the community than it ever has.
Mostly, we should just commend the idea of taking on projects locally so we can beautify our town as a whole – and I believe the cemetery for our military animal vets is a great case in point. Yes, we should honor a dog, such as Flash, a German Shepherd, who acted as a sentry for us for years and had to give up his life, because he was no longer needed.
When resident Dorothy Matich decided to take on an endeavor, she showed how one driven person with a purpose can really change the blemishes and scars in this town.
The Fort McArthur cemetery, in fact, had become just that – a giant embarrassment. Visitors were trashing the site with leftover garbage. Vandals stole more than half of the plaques there to honor the animals. Dog walkers allowed their dogs to dismiss their extras on the graves. And it didn’t seem to matter to anyone that this was one of the first such graveyards in U.S. military history, explained Steve Nelson, the museum curator. The fort, which served as a military site from 1914 to 1982, became a historic museum in 1986.
In an effort to preserve what was left of the cemetery, Steve removed the remaining plaques to and was absolutely delighted when Dorothy came along with the suggestion to do fundraisers to beautify the diminished glory of our hounds (and a few cats) that protected us.
“What an accomplishment,” Steve told me as he chortled over the effort carrying a photo of Flash and watching museum staff clean up extra rocks from the site. “This is a real achievement and it’s because of Dorothy and Flo. It’s just been quite a blessing to have someone adopt the project.”
I must say we need more Dorothy and Flos around. Dorothy received much help from friend, Florence Kleinjan, in raising $22,000 and working toward more. The newly refurbished graveyard will include a wrought-iron fence to protect it from further vandals, pathways of composite granite and a lush, natural landscape of California buckwheat and red flowering currants. If all goes well, the curator said, a bronze statue of a dog – probably one like Flash, a German Shepherd, will be a central focus of the site which will honor some 34 animals. A similar statue was believed to exist at the site, before it too was absconded.
On Nov. 11 – Veterans Day -- Flo and Dorothy plan to put small American flags on the graves that have so long been forgotten.
By then, the museum hopes to have stolen plaques replaced, but most of the work will not be completed until January.
After hosting tickets to teas and plays, Dorothy seemed to breath a sigh of relief to see the beginnings of her efforts come to life.
“I am just elated,” she said. “I really am. I am just really grateful to everyone who helped.”
So am I. So will the community when they see the new gift we’ve all received due to these efforts. And hopefully, so will, the dogs in the big sky who did so much as mans best friend and deserve this much belated honor.