Colleen Slater

Vaughn WWII Veteran Goes the Distance

Wally Cornman, a proud veteran of World War II, continues his service to veterans and the local community. Cornman was born in Naches, east of the Cascades, in 1925; the family, which included five boys and a stepsister, moved to Gig Harbor in 1936. Now the oldest, Wally has two brothers and the sister left.

Cornman recalled diving in Everett at age 17 and meeting a recruiter who said, “Finish your diving, then come see me.” The young Cornman knew divers were a top priority for the Navy. He said he had a problem in Everett once on a deep dive, after the failure of the compressor that provided his air, and he had to be pulled up quickly. He suffered the bends and his left eye was permanently damaged in that incident.

He served in the Navy on a destroyer escort in the South Pacific from 1943 to 1946.

Once, in the destroyer boiler room, Cornman was thrown against a steam valve, breaking all his ribs on that side. After a recent X-ray, the doctor commented that the rib damage was still visible.

When asked about the best times he had in the Navy, he said, “Leave!”

Out of the Navy, he married and had a son and daughter. He remarried later; he and Sally had a daughter, and Sally’s two children completed the family. Cornman had a purse seiner in Alaska for several years and fished in Little Roller Bay. In 1955, he purchased the Joe Bigley home in Vaughn where he still lives. 

“We were involved in a lot of things, but didn’t have much money. We contributed to the civic center when it was started, and helped put on the new roof.”

Cornman and Sally made the front page of KP News in August 1995, pictured as the grand marshals of the Pioneer Days Parade, a much loved one-day community fair and celebration that began with a parade from Key Center to the civic center. Sally died in 1998. 

“I’ve always been active in the community,” Corman said. He has lifetime memberships in the VFW, and was Post Commander. He’s a member of the Key Peninsula Veterans, although he doesn’t attend meetings often. Cornman was the official flag-raiser every year for a long time when the logging show was held at Longbranch Improvement Club. He helps veterans get into the Washington Veterans Home in Port Orchard and often visits there. Cornman went on a veterans’ Honor Trip to Washington, D.C., and received a patriotic “Quilt of Valor.”

With some help he dug the holes to install the 309 original concrete sleeves for the flags at Vaughn Bay Cemetery.

“Harm Van Slyke had seven trolling poles in his garage, and gave them to me for flagpoles,” Cornman said. “I put up the poles at Vaughn Bay Cemetery, the German Cemetery, Lakebay Cemetery, Volunteer Park and the Civic Center. I did have help. Pen Light helped put up the ones at Vaughn Cemetery and at the civic center.”

“When I reached a certain age, I decided I was involved in too many things, so stepped back from some,” he said. He noted membership in the American Legion, Moose, Elks and Eagles, with 40 years of membership in the latter. He often takes his lady friend dancing at the Eagles, where he was recently told they were the best dancers there. 

He admits to taking one medical pill each day. “I’ve had cataracts removed from both eyes and wear hearing aids. I’ll be 93 pretty soon, and I’m still driving!” 

His doctor told him not to use a lawn mower, a weed whacker or climb ladders after his recent cataract surgeries, so he’s pleased he climbed ladders while he still could.

Cornman is a good example of one of our few remaining World War II veterans.

Colleen Slater is a long-time Vaughn resident and contributor to the Key Peninsula News.