The Fallen Cougars Project aims to honor the legacy of former students who served in the Second World War and made the ultimate sacrifice.
Some 200 servicemen with ties to Washington State College—now WSU—died in World War II. Learn about a little more about their lives, deaths, and service to America here.
Charles Noble Kirkham
Charles Noble Kirkham (x’45 Mech. Eng.) was a pilot aboard the U.S.S. Shangri-La at the beginning of June 1945 when the aircraft carrier was preparing for the invasion of the Japanese island of Kyushu. During that series of airstrikes, Shangri-La’s airmen faced their strongest resistance to date—and suffered their heaviest casualties.
On his last flight, Kirkham’s wingman’s plane was damaged and crash-landed into the Pacific Ocean. Kirkham circled above his wingman, providing cover and radioing their position to the ship. He stayed until his own plane ran out of fuel.
His last message was: “I’m going down to join up.”
According to the July 25, 1945, Daily Evergreen, “a raging sea-storm enveloped the area in which the distressed flyers had landed, and when the naval rescue craft (seaplanes) finally reached the spot there was no sign of either planes or pilots.”
Kirkham, of Sunnyside, had spent the 1941-1942 academic year at WSC before enlisting in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His death was recognized with the posthumous awarding of the Navy Cross, among the U.S. military’s second-highest medals for valor in combat.
His citation reads, in part: “On 2 June 1945, while returning from a fighter sweep on airfields in Kyushu, Japan, alone and in extremely poor weather, and in waters patrolled by enemy aircraft, he flew protective cover over the pilot of a fighter plane which had been forced to land in the water due to extensive damage received from the enemy. Although he had sufficient fuel to return to base, he remained over the downed pilot to assist in his rescue until he, too, was forced to make a water landing due to lack of fuel. His skill and courage were at all times in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Noel Elwin Plowman
Noel Elwin Plowman (x’45 Ag.) was the pilot of the B-17 Flying Fortress bomber Spirit of ’96, which was sent on a combat mission on the morning of September 25, 1944. The intended target: railroad marshalling yards in Frankfurt, Germany.
About fourteen miles outside of Frankfurt, the plane underwent aggressive anti-aircraft fire. Its tail was blown off, and eyewitness reports described it as being “nosed over straight down out of control,” then “lost in the clouds.”
Five were killed when the plane was shot down, crashing near Wiesbaden. The four survivors were POWs.
Plowman had enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps after just one year at WSC, where he was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho, an agricultural fraternity. He left for basic training the day after Christmas 1942.
He grew up in Lacrosse, where he played high school football, basketball, and baseball. Senior year, he was awarded the cup for most inspirational player on the football team. He also worked on Tiger Tracks, the school newspaper.
Before the fateful flight, Plowman flew multiple missions in Normandy and Northern France from June through mid-September 1944. His was awarded a Purple Heart and Air Medal.
A garden grows in his honor.
The Seike Japanese Garden, built in 1961 in memory of Toll Seike (x’44 Busi.), now lies at the eastern edge of the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden, about a mile from its original location.
Seike was the middle of five children born to Japanese immigrants. He spent not quite two academic years at WSC before his schooling was cut short under Executive Order 9066, sending Japanese-Americans on the West Coast to internment camps. Seike enlisted at the camp at Heart Mountain, Wyoming, eventually joining the all-Japanese American regiment that would become the most decorated unit of its size and length of service in U.S. military history.
Seike was a private in the 442nd Infantry Regimental Combat Team, which amassed 21 Medals of Honor and 9,486 Purple Hearts—and lost some 800 men while rescuing about 200 members of the First Texas Infantry who were trapped by Germans forces deep in the Vosges in France. The fighting took place in dense woods, heavy fog, and freezing temperatures.
“He was really scared and frightened, wet and cold. The German artillery was shooting over his company, and the trees would just shatter, and splatter and crash,” his brother, Hal Seike, told the Seattle Times in 2017, recalling a letter the soldier sent from the battlefield.
Seike was killed in action on the second-to-last day of the campaign, which ran from October 24 to October 30, 1944. He was awarded the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Victory Medal, and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.
When his family returned from internment, his father started Des Moines Way Nursery, bringing in a designer from the old country to create a Japanese garden. It was to be a showpiece for the nursery and a memorial to his fallen son.
The nursery closed in 2002 when the Port of Seattle bought the property for expansion at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The family home was also leveled to make way for the third runaway.
A 2006 ceremony marked the opening of the garden in its new location. A documentary film, The Seike Garden: An American Story, outlines the garden’s history, including its move.
Allen James Ferguson
Within two months of arriving in Europe, he would disappear.
Before that fateful day in the Hürtgen Forest, Captain Allen James Ferguson (’31 Econ.) wrote to his son, Billy, saying he was sorry he wouldn’t be home for his birthday or Christmas.
“These days we can’t do what we want as we have obligations to meet. Always remember: Duty comes first—Duty to our country and duty to our family. At present Duty to the country is necessary to preserve the family,” he wrote, adding, “Your picture is always with me along with your Mother’s and you are never out of my thoughts.”
Ferguson commanded Company L in the 394th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division, nicknamed “Battle Babies.” He was sent overseas at the end of September 1944, traveling from England to Le Havre, France, and then the Ardennes.
On the morning of November 18, 1944, Company L received word that an officer and several men were wounded on patrol about three miles east of the Belgian-German border. Ferguson, who would be awarded the Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Purple Heart, volunteered for the rescue mission.
“One of his Junior officers became panicky, did not follow orders and the Germans directed all machine gun fire at my husband and his men,” his wife, Max Geraldine Ferguson, wrote, recounting the incident two years later. “When a searching party was sent out later, a number of men were found dead, but my husband was missing. They assume that my husband was alive when the Germans picked him up, but that he must have died enroute to a German Hospital and was buried in an unidentified grave. To date, no trace, whatsoever, has been found of him.”
Sidney Carl Beinke
First Lieutenant Sidney Carl Beinke (’40 Botany) set up his guns out in the open, just 200 yards from the entrenched enemy, on the southwest peninsula of Peleliu in the Palau Islands. He was the leader of a 37-millimeter gun platoon attached to the Seventh Marines, First Marine Division.
They landed on the morning of September 15, 1944, and endured continuous exposure to mortar and machine gun fire from the Japanese, who used the small island’s network of steep caves and tunnels as a fortress from which to attack the incoming U.S. troops below.
Major General William Rupertus, Commander of the First Marine Division, predicted the island would be secured within four days. The battle last more than two months and resulted in the highest casualty rate of any amphibious assault in American military history.
On October 3, 1944, while commanding a group of infantry, Beinke was wounded by a mortar blast during a heavy barrage. He was treated for his injuries, then continued to carry out his command. That same afternoon, a sniper high in the hills hit him.
Beinke was the youngest of five children. The yearbook for Seattle’s Cleveland High School described him as “a true worker.” He transferred to WSC from the University of Washington and, after graduation, worked as an Agricultural Adjustment Act range specialist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture until enlisting in 1942. He started serving in the Pacific Theater in June 1943.
Beinke was awarded the Silver Star Medal and Presidential Unit Citation with a ribbon bar. In a posthumous letter of commendation, Rupertus wrote Beinke “displayed the highest qualities of bravery and devotion to duty until mortally wounded by the enemy. He gallantly gave his life in the service of his country and his courage and conduct in battle were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
Myron “Mike” Carstensen
Myron “Mike” Carstensen (’43 Poli. Sci.) took part in the first assault wave on Saipan. He never made it ashore.
Allied forces began their bombardment of the island on June 13, 1944. Landings began two days later. Marines braved barbed wire and heavy fire, and suffered extensive casualties. Carstensen’s tank was hit by enemy fire while it was still some 1,200 feet out on the reef.
“All at once I saw his tank smoking and I saw some of his men help him out of the turret,” Lieutenant Charles W. Goodnight, his friend and fellow officer, wrote. “I found out that he got off the burning tank, tried to say something to his men and then collapsed, dead. He was hit with a mortar shell in the side. His last words were some sort of command. That’s what I call typical of Mike.”
Carstensen came from a wheat farming family in Lincoln County. He attended WSC for two years before transferring to Gonzaga University, returning to Pullman two years later to finish his degree. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps the same year he graduated, shipping overseas with the Second Armored Amphibian Battalion in late April 1944. Their mission was to deploy sixty-eight amphibious tanks in an attack against the fortified beaches of Saipan, in the Northern Mariana Islands, in order to clear the way for Marine infantrymen to land after them.
Carstensen, who was awarded a Purple Heart, was buried at sea.
Archie Buckley (’30 Phys. Ed.) was a football star.
While he was small in stature and weighed just over 150 pounds, his athletic endeavors at WSC were legendary. The Colville native played quarterback and kicker, and was adept at “slipping through the opposition for pretty yardage,” according to a 1930 issue of The Powwow, the school’s former alumni newsletter. He also played forward in basketball and third baseman in baseball—and lettered in all three sports.
He was hailed in 1930 in the Spokesman-Review as “one of the outstanding prep stars of the Inland Empire.” The year earlier, he won the J. Fred Bohler Award for being the football team’s greatest inspiration that season.
After graduation, he spent one school year as a high school coach in Centralia, where he married Mary Maude Hungate (’29). They had two children.
In 1931, Buckley became a coach at Spokane’s North Central High School. His mantra: “A North Central team never quits!”
He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1943 and was eventually assigned to the U.S.S. Saratoga. Two days after the start of the Battle of Iwo Jima, at 5 p.m. February 21, 1945, five kamikaze planes hit the aircraft carrier’s forward flight deck in three minutes. Another attack at 7 p.m. scored another hit. The battleship was burning, and 123 members of the crew were missing or dead. Buckley’s body was never recovered.
His actions helped save others during the attack. An account from Ensign Leo Andrecht reads: “A plane director had just completed hooking my plane to the starboard catapult, when I suddenly saw Lieutenant Buckley frantically waving his arms to attract my attention. Upon getting it, he then pointed starboard aft. As I turned to look aft, I saw him trying to attract Ensign Powell’s attention on the port catapult. I saw two enemy planes, one on starboard beam, coming in very fast and strafing with an obvious intent of flying into the starboard side, the other further aft of which I soon lost sight of. I unbuckled my shoulder straps and made the starboard life nets as the first bomb hit the port catapult. I sincerely believe that Lieutenant Buckley’s courage to stay and warn us of the impending danger, before seeking safety himself, kept me from possible death or serious burns.”
Buckley was awarded the Bronze Star, Navy Cross, and Purple Heart. His Bronze Star citation reads: “First to observe the Japanese plane headed in on a lightning course for his carrier, Lieutenant Buckley remained in the line of enemy strafing, desperately striving to attract the attention of his crews and the pilots of two aircraft secured to the catapults. Refusing to seek cover for himself, he directed all his men to positions of comparative safety, and was still at his post when the attacker crashed into the forward end of the flight deck on the starboard side. Through his alert warning and gallant consideration of others in the face of imminent peril to himself, the lives of several men were saved.”
Video: the Fallen Cougars Project
Profiles of student researchers on the Fallen Cougars Project
Fallen Cougars Project: A legacy nearly lost