An emotional Riley Cove dedication ceremony

Cove named after decorated war hero, Huston ‘Hu’ Riley.

There were smiles, a few tears and plenty of inspirational words spoken during a long-awaited Riley Cove dedication ceremony on June 6.

As the mid-afternoon sunlight shone down on the group of attendees gathered near the small bay off Mercer Island’s Lincoln Landing, they honored the cove’s namesake, Huston “Hu” Riley, and unveiled a memorial plaque featuring photos and information about the decorated veteran who earned three Purple Hearts during his years of military service

Riley, who was a lifelong Island resident and pioneer and U.S. Army veteran in the 1st Infantry Division, died at the age of 90 in 2011. Robert Capa snapped the famous “soldier in the surf” photo of Riley during the World War II D-Day Invasion at Omaha Beach that was emblazoned on the cover of Life magazine.

The local ceremony occurred 79 years to the day since the invasion. In a Reporter 2008 story, Riley recalled about that harrowing landing, “We all jumped out. I went into (the water and sank) 14 feet, clear to the bottom.”

Last year, the Washington State Board of Natural Resources and the United States Board on Geographic Names approved that the moniker Riley Cove could be etched onto Washington maps. Riley Cove is an approximately 60-acre bay on the northern coast of Mercer Island.

Riley’s daughter, Erin E. Riley Borden, was one of the speakers during the ceremony along with Mercer Island Mayor Salim Nice, city councilmember Wendy Weiker, family friend and advocacy group leader Rob MacAulay and Mercer Island Historical Society co-president Jane Meyer Brahm. A reception followed the event at the nearby VFW Post 5760 Hall, where Riley spent copious hours as an active member.

“I feel quite honored that all this work went into naming this cove for my father. I know my dad and my mom were very close to their neighbors and I’m very thankful that the neighbors were so kind to them in their old age,” Borden said.

In a previous Reporter story, Borden said that her father lived in the same house at 7436 N. Mercer Way his entire life. The abode, which Riley’s father built in 1914 and looks onto the cove, stayed in the family until Riley’s wife, Charlotte, passed away in 2018. It was sold in August of that year.

MacAulay, whose daughter is also named Riley, was honored to know the kind and humble “Hu.” He described how their friendship began, “First as a great guy to grab a beer with, and only later did I learn what an amazing war hero he was.” MacAulay added that Riley, who was toting 85 pounds of gear on his back, was struck twice by gunfire on D-Day and carried on against almost insurmountable odds. That is the epitome of bravery, the speaker said.

MacAulay led a dedicated local group that worked to place the Riley Cove appellation on the map. The coterie included Frank Sorba, Meyer Brahm, Weiker and historical society co-president Terry Moreman. It took two applications and 12 years to bring the naming of Riley Cove to fruition.

Meyer Brahm noted that the newly named cove is a slice of immortality for Riley. It’s been a long time coming and she added that the historical society was elated to get on board with the campaign, “Not only because ‘Hu’ Riley was a member of the historical society board, but because places matter. And this place, for now and for generations in the future, will forever be connected to ‘Hu’ Riley and his family.”

Weiker spoke of Riley’s bravery and patriotism and said she was honored to join the naming group to support the community.

“This legacy, this war hero from World War II is now a memorial for anybody that wants to come to Mercer Island and honor our families and honor the World War II veterans with ‘Hu,’” she said.

Added Mayor Nice: “We want to thank Rob and his group for their efforts that have gotten us here today.” He also commended King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci for penning a letter in support of the campaign.

Prior to the ceremony while they were greeting friends and organizers, Erin and her daughter Riley spoke with the Reporter about the meaningful event and putting Riley Cove on the map.

“I think it’s really neat. I think Mercer Island has changed a ton in my lifetime and my father’s lifetime, but I think for him it would be representative of everybody who fought in the war,” Erin said about her modest father.

Riley, who graduated from the University of Washington School of Law at age 23 a day earlier, said she’s carried her grandparents’ grit, love of life and perseverance with her each day.

“It’s beautiful,” she said of the gathering and the naming of Riley Cove. “I love my grandma and grandpa and was very very close to them growing up and I feel like I gained so much appreciation for World War II history, in particular. To me, it’s an honoring of all veterans and of World War II history and all of the heroes who have lived on Mercer Island.”

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Andy Nystrom/ staff photo

Huston “Hu” Riley. Reporter file photo by Chad Coleman

Huston “Hu” Riley. Reporter file photo by Chad Coleman