Cordova Chronicles: Who was W.H. Mumby?

The bridge at mile 26.9 on the Copper River Highway, listed as the Flag Point West bridge, has been named the W.H. Mumby Bridge as part of a program honoring Cordova’s veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

On a recent sunny drive out to the end of what’s left of the Copper River Highway, I realized many of the bridge names were quite unfamiliar.

I did know the bridges, with the exception off the Marie Smith Jones Bridge across the Eyak River at Mile 5, were named after Cordova veterans who gave their lives for our country.

Most of us pass the bridges from town to the Mile 13 Airport often, and perhaps have some familiarity with the names on the bridges in that section, but further out, the names become more obscure.

I stopped between the two bridges spanning the Copper River at Mile 27 and came up short trying to recall anything about W. H. Mumby, the name now assigned to the eastern section.

Equally baffling were the bridges named for Lucian Platt and Steven Green. Some of the names did have a Cordova “ring” to them, such as Leonard F. Olsen, Norman D. Osborne and John W. Jones, but I decided to take a photo of each one and turn to historical research come a very rainy day.

I quickly discovered that no one digs deeper and more thoroughly into Cordova’s past than Dixie Lambert. It is her hobby, and she is incredibly good at it. For history fans, she often posts her findings on a Facebook group page called “Cordova Alaska History Buffs.”

In this case, after a short phone call, a packet of documents from Lambert several inches thick, regarding the naming of the bridges and amazing research into the background of each of the individuals, showed up on my doorstep two days later.

Many of the items were photocopies from old editions of The Cordova Times, which Lambert obtained back when the papers were archived in the old museum. Other sources include clippings from other newspapers, as well as searches through ancestry.com, and various Department of Defense records.

On June 9, 2012, Cordova veterans and guests gathered at Mile 9.7 for the unveiling of a bridge sign honoring David Henry Elisovsky, the first Cordovan lost in the Vietnam War. Photo by Dick Shellhorn/for The Cordova Times

Lambert provided far too much information to fit in one article, so I propose to do a four-partseries on the bridge names.

They happen to be assigned to the bridges in a somewhat chronological fashion, starting with World War I honorees farthest out the road, World War II in the middle, and Vietnam nearest to town which likely explains why the names further out the road are less recognizable.

As we all know, time marches on, and unfortunately a few of the signs have not been installed, for they were designated for bridges on the other side of the present termination of the highway at Mile 36.2 mile, which has washed out due to the changing course of the Copper River itself.

And guess what? Despite all the research by Dixie Lambert, there is still much mystery about one of these veterans, namely W.H. Mumby.

The background for the bridge signs dates back to 2012. On May 2, 2012, Gov. Sean Parnell signed HB 246, sponsored by former Representative Bill Thomas, naming 15 bridges along the Copper River Highway, 14 for soldiers who died while serving, and one for Eyak Elder Marie Smith Jones. 

Thomas, a Vietnam veteran, sponsored the bill as a “lasting tribute” to them. The bill specified, in chronological order of death, the name that would be assigned to each bridge, which was described by both bridge number and also by mileage on the highway. 

The first bridge sign, honoring David Henry Elisovsky, was installed at Mile 9.7, on June 9, 2012. Elisovsky was the first Cordovan to die in the Vietnam conflict.

Cordova veterans and guests gathered for an unveiling ceremony. Thomas spoke at the gathering, which included Elisovsky’s family and two veterans who had served with him in Vietnam.

Thomas told the crowd, “These boys left home to serve but never returned. It is important to remember.”

Next week, we will start at the end of the road, and beyond, as we look into the past of each of the veterans who received this tribute for making the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

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Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes.