Mount Rainier Valor Memorial: Recognizing the Sacrifices of Fallen Rangers

In this piece from Mountaineer magazine, Steve Smith shares his experience at the unveiling of the Valor Memorial at Mount Rainier National Park.
Steve Smith Steve Smith
Former Climbing Education Manager
July 23, 2019
Mount Rainier Valor Memorial: Recognizing the Sacrifices of Fallen Rangers

Friday, August 25, 2017 marked the 101st anniversary of the National Park Service. It was also the date of a very special and moving ceremony dedicating a new memorial at Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park.

I was honored to be among the solemn crowd gathered on this crisp late summer day in the dappled light beneath Douglas Firs and Western Red Cedars, facing the tumbling seracs and sweeping ridgelines of Mt Rainier itself. Some saluted, others stood at attention, and many cried as the sounds of bagpipes pierced the forest, honoring four National Park Rangers who gave their lives in the line of duty to protect others.

United States Congressman Dave Reichert gave a moving, personal story about comrades he has lost in the line of duty in his former career as a King County sheriff. Mt. Rainier Superintendent Randy King gave an emotional tribute to the four fallen rangers, two of which he had worked with personally. Deputy Superintendent Tracy Swartout served as the master of ceremonies and held the whole memorial tribute together with skill and poise. For the extended community, immediate family members, and current employees of the park, the memorial provided a sense of closure, a chance to come together to support each other through the loss of friends and family, and perhaps a reminder of the important role which public servants play every day in the normal course of their duties.

The Valor Memorial honors Park Ranger Sean Ryan, and Student Conservation Association Volunteer Ranger Phil Otis, who died together during a high-mountain rescue on August 12, 1995. The Valor Memorial also honors Park Ranger Margaret Anderson, who was shot and killed by a heavily armed gunman whom she prevented from traveling into the crowded Paradise area on New Year’s Day, 2012, and Park Ranger Nick Hall, who died just six months later on June 21, 2012 while engaged in a rescue of four injured climbers on the upper mountain. Superintendent Randy King stated, “This memorial serves as a place to permanently honor and remember those who have lost their lives in the act of saving others in Mount Rainier National Park. It also reminds us of the selfless work that continues each day, and the risks faced, by those who serve in our National Parks as they protect park resources for the future, provide a way for visitors to connect with those resources, and work to keep people safe.”

Although the memorial dedication itself was extremely moving and meaningful, perhaps equally inspiring is the back-story of how the memorial came to be. In an era in which national monuments are under review to be downsized or eliminated, it’s refreshing to see this memorial being built due to bi-partisan and widespread support for the sacrifices made by public servants on public lands. According to federal policy, memorials such as the Valor Memorial are not typically allowed to be built in National Parks, and they can’t be funded by National Park budgets. A bi-partisan team of diligent supporters worked for years behind the scenes to gain approval for this memorial to be built, but the project did not take life until several funding sources stepped up to the plate, including the State of Washington, the Cascade Bicycle Club, and Washington’s National Park Fund.

In this politically-charged era, in which many divisive monuments are being taken down in other parts of the country, it’s uplifting and humbling all at once to see this impassioned yet compassionate Pacific Northwest community working together to overcome barriers and uphold the shared values of courage, sacrifice, and service on and for public lands.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2018 issue of Mountaineer Magazine. To view the original article in magazine form and read more stories from our publication, click here.

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