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Great War vets to be honored in Gold Hill

Pat Coniff's war memorial for the Rosecrans family, including the stones for World War l Veteran William Rosecrans, left, and his son Robert Rosecrans who is missing in action from World War ll, are part of his years of restoration work at the I.O.O.F. Gold Hill Cemetery. Photo by Denise Baratta
Pat Coniff's war memorial for the Rosecrans family, including the stones for World War l Veteran William Rosecrans, left, and his son Robert Rosecrans who is missing in action from World War ll, are part of his years of restoration work at the I.O.O.F. Gold Hill Cemetery. Photo by Denise Baratta
A memorial pillar bears the names of 11 airman lost during a 1945 bombing mission over Japan, including Gunner Sgt. Robert Rosecrans of Gold Hill. Photo by Denise Baratta
VFW will dedicate new memorial for a Gold Hill man who never returned home from World War II, and the rest of his crew shot down in Japan

A Gold Hill soldier who never returned home from World War II will be honored this Memorial Day weekend with a monument and ceremony that includes the soldier’s last sibling and commemorates the soldier’s missing brothers-in-arms.

A new memorial that honors the service of Robert Edwin Rosecrans of Gold Hill and 10 other members of his B-29 bomber squadron shot down in 1945, is now complete and will be dedicated at 11 a.m. Saturday, May 29, at the Gold Hill IOOF cemetery in a ceremony that will be attended by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Rosecrans’ brother, according to cemetery sexton Pat Coniff.

Coniff, with the help of a donor who asked to remain anonymous, was able to construct the bright memorial that includes a pedestal honoring the 760 Bomber Squadron 497 Bomb Group, a 25-foot flagpole with American and MIA flags, and is located in front of the graves of more than a half dozen of Rosecrans’ family members — among them that of Rosecrans’ father, who served in World War I.

“There’s one spot left here for the brother,” Coniff said, while indicating a cemetery pod with all-new granite headstones for each of the family graves.

Coniff said that Rosecrans’ brother, Bill, "looks like he’s got a lot of life left in him,“ despite a terminal cancer diagnosis.

Rosecrans was 21 years old when his bomber squadron was shot down during a Jan. 14, 1945 flight from Saipan to Nagoya, Japan, according to Coniff and the pedestal memorial. All 11 souls ranging in ages from 20 to 28 perished after the Boeing aircraft similar to those used to transport nuclear bombs sustained heavy enemy fire, and went down.

The squadron’s remains were never found.

Coniff worked with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to obtain an official military burial headstone for Rosecrans.

“He’s got three distinctions,” Coniff said in admiration, pointing out that the headstone recognizes that Rosecrans is missing in action, and earned an Air Medal and a Purple Heart.

Coniff worked with the the national VA headquarters to replace a missing Purple Heart medal, which he will present to his brother at the May 29 ceremony.

The event in Gold Hill will also include a Marine Guard flag raising and firing. A Sargent Major will recount the mission in Japan, and read off each of the 11 missing soldiers’ names.

“And each time he reads a name I’m going to ring a bell,” Coniff said.

Others who’ll be present for the ceremony include the VFW, the VFW auxiliary, and Trail Scouts, according to Coniff.

Coniff said the memorial took shape when he and his wife met the anonymous donor while volunteering on the cemetery grounds, and lamented that the Rosecrans family didn’t have any headstones.

The donor started donating to the cemetery’s headstone program, and later approached the Coniffs about about constructing a memorial.

After the memorial was constructed in September, Coniff uploaded photos of it to the cemetery’s Google search listing. The photo has since been accessed about 5,000 times, Conliff said.

There’s about 65 graves missing headstones, according to Coniff, who has been caretaker of the 11-acre cemetery since the late 1990s. Conliff did a thorough inventory of the grave sites about five years ago and digitized the records.

He started by caring for the grave of his son, who died in 1998, and later expanded to care for all of the graves. On Saturday, he was joined by a team of about 17 volunteers, who cleared out brush on the grounds consisting of the 438 occupied gravesites.

To contribute to the cemetery’s maintenance and beutification fund, mail checks to the IOOF Lodge Attn: IOOF Cemetery Committee, 483 Second Ave, Gold Hill, OR 97525 or call Coniff at 541-621-1899.

Coniff said he’s grateful for any time and monetary donations he receives, but at 76 years old, he said hopes he can start passing on some of his knowledge to a future caretaker.

“I’m not going to be around forever,” Coniff said.

Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Correction, May 29: An earlierlier version of this story misspelled cemetery sexton Pat Coniff’s name.