One of Redland’s most interesting stories lies tucked behind the shrine of Abraham Lincoln.
Remember the post about the Lincoln Shrine (the largest tribute to the man west of the Mississippi)? Its existence began as a monument to a parent’s World War I heartbreak.
After making a fortune in oil and settling in Redlands, Alma and Robert Watchorn hoped and prayed for an addition to their family. In the 1890s their prayers were answered as Robert Jr. came into the world. But Robert Jr. died as an infant.
Then came Emory Ewart who would be their only child.
Emory grew up doted on by loving parents. After graduating from Hollywood Highschool, he did what any adventurous, wealthy (and somewhat smothered) teen would do – travelled through Europe.
His timing was awful. At the outbreak of World War I, he was in Germany. It took all the efforts of the U.S. State Department to get him out of there alive.
After his harrowing adventure, Emory trained as a pilot with the allied forces. In those days, American pilots flew for whoever was in the most trouble and Emory landed with the Italians. Fiorello La Guardia (of NY airport fame) was his coach and commander in those tin can contraptions called early war planes.
He was only 22.
After months of flight training in Italy, Emory and his Italian comrades flew day and night bombing missions against Austrian airfields, railroad yards and troop concentrations. On a night mission, the lieutenant’s center engine was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He would receive a commendation for coolly executing a perfect emergency landing, saving his crew and the plane.
But the years of freezing winds in exposed cockpits took their toll on Emory. On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, Armistice Day, he came close to death from pneumonia.
But he recovered, returning to California and his waiting parents.
It was not the war, but a sunburn that killed Emory Watchorn. His severely damaged body, especially his lungs, could not recover from the severe burn from a day at the beach. After a two month struggle, Emory Ewart died at the age of 25 on July 10, 1921. Robert and Alma were devastated by the loss of their only surviving child and always felt that his death was a direct result of his service to his country.
So they built a memorial.
Now, the President whose memory looms larger than the Civil War itself has taken center stage at the shrine. But if you listen closely to the war stories, they echo the patriotism and sorrow of two parents who lost their only son in World War I.
*Photos courtesy of the Lincoln Shrine.