Two old desks reveal mysterious photos and history for the Gresham VFW post

You never know what you’ll find when you clean out a closet.

“There were two old desks back against the wall in the junk area,” said Val Shaull, commander for the Gresham United VFW Post No. 180. “Nobody ever said they belonged to us. They were both locked but I got Davis Lock in Gresham to unlock them and what I found inside — besides the dead mouse — was a time capsule going back to the 1940s.”

Shaull had been rolling officer’s podiums out of that same storage area before meetings at the Veteran’s Memorial Hall on East Powell Boulevard for years. He hardly noticed the two circa 1950s desks sharing space with a water heater. Submitting to his curiosity recently, Shaull pulled them out and found both desks possessed tarnished brass plaques identifying them as officer’s desks. One belonged to the Post’s Adjutant, or secretary, the other, to the treasurer or Quarter Master. Significant Post possessions in their own right, but once Shaull got passed the resident mouse, the drawers unveiled both history and a mystery.

“I found a 48-star U.S. Flag, membership pins, meeting minutes, plans for the brass plaque on the outside of the building, old pictures and much more,” Shaull said. “I don’t think they had been open since the early 1970s. But two pictures caught my eye. One was our color guard. The other picture is more somber and mysterious. It is a Japanese funeral, with Shinto Priests.”

Shaull is a longtime advocate for veterans and the photo of the unknown soldier’s funeral left him admittedly sleepless. He suspected by the style of clothing in the black and white photo that the deceased veteran might have been killed during World War II.

Led by two scraps of paper he found in the desk, containing nothing more than a name and address, Shaull set off on a mission to learn whose funeral had been photographed.

“One piece of paper had the name Kenneth K. Kondo, Willamette National Cemetery, Jan. 25, 1952,” Shaull said. “On the computer, I found a Ken K. Kondo, buried at Willamette. So I went up to Willamette and found his grave. He was killed in Korea in 1950. It also lists his hometown as Sacramento, Calf., but we know he was from Boring and his parents lived here. He was 26 at the time of his death. Was he based in Sacramento and grow up here? Did his parents bring him back to Oregon to be buried?”

Shaull’s sleuthing brought up more questions than answers. For example, if Kondo was killed in Korea in 1950, why was he not laid to rest until 1952?

“Willamette National Cemetery didn’t open until December 1951,” Shaull explained. “Ken Kondo was buried in January 1952, shortly after the cemetery opened. He was one of the first to be buried there, because his grave is very close to the old main gate.”

Shaull also wonders how the honor guard members fit into the scene. The Gresham Post’s honor guard disbanded years ago and is in the process of reforming, but back in the day, according to Shaull, VFW honor guards attended funerals and participated in Veteran’s and Memorial Day services. While he figures the “boys” in the photo are probably the fathers of some of his classmates, Shaull wonders what their place was at the veteran’s funeral.

“(Ken) would be 88 now, so his parents are gone,” Shaull said. “It was a local Japanese photographer who took the photo, but the mystery is, did our (honor guard) go to all the funerals back in the day or was Ken a member of this post?”

The mysterious photo aside, Shaull was delighted to find items in the desk drawers that hold historical significance for the Post.

Among dated brochures for veteran’s education benefits, event flyers and ritual books was a book of secretary minutes dating back to March 20, 1945. Gresham’s original VFW Post No. 4032 was mustered on Feb. 27, 1945, Shaull said, leaving him to speculate that the group’s first meeting would have been held about that time.

Reading the minutes, he said, was like a good novel.

“I found out we own a jukebox,” Shaull said laughing. “We have no idea where it is, but we apparently own one. There was even a recorded discussion for a women’s wrestling match at the armory, but we haven’t been able to find out if they ever had it. One guy even asked if women’s wrestling was legal.”

While humorous to read now, given the conversation regarding women’s wrestling, the minutes document the early days of the Post. Shaull said plans are being discussed to preserve the historical finds, and possibly, create a museum of sorts to display the artifacts and photos.

But the mystery of Kenneth Kondo and the honor guard members continues to intrigue him.

“What I’d like to know is who these guys are in the pictures,” Shaull said. “Does anybody know Ken Kondo? We’d love to have the public’s help in identifying who these guys are.”

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