Palm Springs Fallen Heroes Banners at the Palm Springs Air Museum.


High school teacher, Marine Corps veteran honors local Palm Springs fallen heroes

Palm Springs, CA

Hello from Post 519 in Palm Springs, Calif.! My name is Lee Wilson Jr. and I've taught World and U.S. History at Cathedral City High School, Palm Springs Unified School District, since 1997. I'm a member of our local VFW Post 1534 in Desert Hot Springs, DAV 66, and serve locally as the historian for American Legion Owen Coffman Post 519. Sadly, I am the only teacher in the Coachella Valley to have lost two former students on the War on Terror: PFC Ming Sun, CCHS class of 2004 KIA Ramadi, Iraq January 2007, and CWO2 Suresh Abayasekara Krause, CCHS class of 2001 KIA Kandahar, Afghanistan August 2012. Having served in the Marine Corps, I felt an obligation to honor their service and sacrifice as well as honor their Gold Star families. Our local teacher organization, the Palm Springs Teachers Association, has been most gracious in providing support and participation in the Palm Springs Veterans Day Parade. Roughly around the time Suresh was killed in action, I became the historian for our post. I floated the idea that we should help sponsor some sort of hometown hero banner program to honor Ming, Suresh and all the local fallen heroes from all our wars. Our post was built in 1948 and our memorial wall contains the names of the 16 local residents killed during World War II. I was surprised that there were no records of who these men were, where they fought, where they are buried, their branch of service, etc. So if I was going to honor Ming and Suresh with banners, I felt we needed to honor everybody. Over the years I've researched these names and learned about all 27 KIA/MIA from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, plus Ming and Suresh. I began to find sponsors for the banners. Several groups from our post helped to pay the costs of banners including our color guard, Auxiliary and Riders. Several years later, we now have fallen hero banners at the Palm Springs American Legion, and on display downtown during Veterans Day, Fourth of July and Memorial Day. Each of these Fallen Heroes Banners honors a local fallen hero. I'm still trying to find photos for a couple, but at least they're remembered. Of the local 27 KIA/MIA, 16 were graduates of the Palm Springs Unified School District. As a teacher, I know that each of these heroes had somebody who taught them patriotism, citizenship and service to country. It is an honor to have had that privilege and to teach men like Ming Sun and Suresh Abayasekara Krause.

PFC Richard Francis Gill, USMC was the first resident from Palm Springs, California to give his life in service to our country. Richard was listed Missing in Action at Gudalcanal, 10 November 1942. His mother, Frona Gill is our first Gold Star Mother.

Gold Star Families

Veteran Teachers of the PSUSD honoring our Gold Star Families and students who have given their lives in service to our country.

I began the fallen heroes banner project to honor my former students Ming Sun and Suresh Krause. Now all 27 of our local heroes have a banner.

Post 519 is named in honor of 2nd Lt. Owen Baylis Coffman, the first native born resident to give his life in service to our country. Our post was founded by Owen's father, Earl Coffman, owner of the legendary Desert Inn and son of Palm Springs Matriarch Nellie Coffman. Owen was a Stanford graduate. He was killed on his second mission.

I also set up temporary displays in front of the Palm Springs Historical Society during Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Never forget.

Thomas McKee was the first person from Palm Springs to give his life during the Vietnam War. A M-48 tank crewman, Thomas had already been twice wounded. He was awarded the Silver Star just before he died from his wounds in the Philippines. He was 20 years old.

Earle Pinckard is the Palm Springs RAMBO! He fought at Guadalcanal, was wounded at Tarawa, and killed in action at Saipan. His father, Ryland Pinckard is the contractor who in 1948 built our post. He purposely underbid so he could win the contract and honor his son.

Post 519 was built in 1948. Seven of these 16 names were graduates of Palm Springs High School. When I began this project, most of these names were lost to history. Nobody knew who they were, where they served, where they fought and died, where they are buried. I made it my mission to learn as much as I can to honor their memory. I've found photos for all but five of these men but learned their stories, units, backgrounds, etc. Never forget.
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