Stanford Law School graduate William Beitler Brunton, LLB ’37 (BA ’35), volunteered for duty in the Philippines in 1941 under General George Marshall and fought during the bitter siege of Bataan. After the surrender to Japan, he was taken prisoner. Survivors told his parents that he was a “morale builder” who endured the starvation, humiliation and cruelty of the infamous prison camp at Cabanatuan with good humor and great fortitude. But Captain Brunton never made it home. He was aboard an enemy ship en route to mainland China on December 15, 1944, when the ship was sunk by American fliers and he was lost at sea.
George William Simonds (BA ’38) had finished his first quarter at Stanford Law School and was in good standing when he joined the U.S. Army in 1941 and was assigned to a staff job with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He asked to be assigned to field duty and wound up parachuting into France on D-Day. When the C-47 he was aboard overshot the drop zone, he was hung up in a tree, and he managed to shoot a man with his carbine before cutting himself loose. Less than a month later, on the Fourth of July in 1944, he was killed during heavy enemy fire by the Germans.
Captains Brunton and Simonds are among hundreds of Stanford Law School (SLS) students and graduates who served during World War II in all branches of the military, all over the world. On Thursday, May 27, on a bright sunny day, about 80 veterans, students, faculty, staff and friends gathered in the shade of “The Grove,” a stand of giant redwoods behind the law school library, to honor those killed during that war and all who have served our country.
One of those in the official party seated in front was a most distinguished veteran, former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps officer from 1942 to 1945 and is now a Distinguished Fellow at the Hoover Institution. When he was introduced, he noted that he was not, like many marines in the audience, wearing his dress blues. In fact, he did not own dress blues because, as he said, “When I graduated from boot camp, I went straight to artillery school and then I went overseas. I didn’t have time for dress blues. I finally got a pair of dress blues for my 95th birthday.”
During a full military ceremony, complete with an honor guard and music by the U.S. Air Force’s Band of the Golden West, the center of attention was a large bronze plaque that was recently unearthed in a basement storeroom at the law school. On it are the names of 18 SLS alumni who gave their lives while serving in the armed forces during World War II. Soon the plaque will be mounted on a boulder sculpted with a folded American flag on top that will remain in The Grove.
Jason Estacio, assistant director of facilities and operations at the law school, explained that he discovered the plaque this spring while preparing for a heating project. “It was just sitting against a concrete wall. It wasn’t wrapped. It was pretty dirty,” he said. He couldn’t lift it by himself. It weighs about 150 pounds.
Hidden in a Closet
The plaque hung over a water fountain in the History Corner at the Main Quad while the law school was located there. When the school moved to its present location in 1975, someone tucked it in a storage closet where it lay, in Rip Van Winkle fashion, for 41 years. Upon learning of the existence of the plaque, Tripp Zanetis, JD ’17, and Jordan Ritenour, JD ’17, co-presidents of the Stanford Law Veterans Organization, won support from Stanford Law School Dean M. Elizabeth Magill and administrators to rededicate the plaque in time for Memorial Day.
In her welcoming remarks, Dean Magill recalled the words of then-Dean Marion Kirkwood at the original dedication ceremony in 1945, when relatives and friends of World War II veterans joined together to establish the Stanford Law Veterans Memorial Scholarship and “a tangible and permanent memorial” to honor them. The scholarship was available to any dependent of a World War II veteran killed in action.
Among the guests were Craig Largent, MS ’89, JD ’04, and John Dugan, JD ’99, who, along with Steven Benz, JD ’90, recently endowed the Stanford Law School Veterans Fund, which supports current veterans attending the law school.
Also speaking was Dana Rehnquist, JD ’16, whose grandfather, the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, LLB ’52 (BA/MA ’48), enlisted shortly after Pearl Harbor and served as a sergeant in North Africa as a weatherman providing weather reports to Army Air Corps aviators. “Growing up, I always noticed Gramps was a little obsessed with the weather,” she said with a smile.
In his address, Secretary Shultz recalled “things I learned in the war that have stood me in good stead,” such as “Be careful of what you say you’ll do and, if you do what you say you’re going to do, you’ll be trusted” and “Strength is more important than force.”
He concluded, “We have fought wars, and the people who fought them deserve our respect and recognition. They saved our lives.”
With that, while the color guard saluted and the band softly played “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” Jordan Ritenour read the honor roll of Stanford Law alumni who gave their lives in World War II and the memorial plaque was unveiled.