Who we are as Americans

May 27, 2002 11:00 pm
National Guard soldiers 1st Sgt. Paul Russell, left, and Sgt. Major Joe Brooks, right, raise one of the 13 flags that honor Baker County veterans who have died in recent months. The flags were presented first to family members, who in turn gave the flags to soldiers and sailors to raise during Monday's Memorial Day observance at Mt. Hope Cemetery.  (Baker City Herald/Mike Ferguson).
National Guard soldiers 1st Sgt. Paul Russell, left, and Sgt. Major Joe Brooks, right, raise one of the 13 flags that honor Baker County veterans who have died in recent months. The flags were presented first to family members, who in turn gave the flags to soldiers and sailors to raise during Monday's Memorial Day observance at Mt. Hope Cemetery. (Baker City Herald/Mike Ferguson).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

Rather than just tell Monday's Memorial Day observers how important it is to remember the brave people who shaped the nation's history, James Kerns gave the crowd at Mt. Hope Cemetery a show-and-tell lesson.

Seated beside Kerns near the podium were four area residents who collectively have done nearly 400 years of living. Person by person, Kerns went down the line, showing why their stories were memorable on Memorial Day.

He started with Betty Rud, whose father was born 11 years before the start of the Civil War (he was 66 when Betty was born in 1916). Memorial Day, he noted, was first observed to honor fallen soldiers on both sides of that war.

Next in line was Viva Sue Riding, whose ancestors left behind title and privilege in Great Britain to emigrate to Utah in the 1840s and 1850s. While in her 50s, Viva's great-grandmother discovered she was pregnant as she walked across this country's Plains states.

Viva's grandmother, Kerns said, enjoyed books so much that she carried them over from her homeland and across the Plains as well.

"She lived to be 108, and her great-grandmother lived to 104, so Viva's going to be with us for quite a while," Kerns said.

Kerns lauded Ferdinand Boesch, who turned 100 this year, for having written two books.

"Everyone will always remember Ferdinand, because he wrote down his experiences," Kerns said. "Viva (who also resides at Settlers' Park) says he writes constantly and always gets a big stack of mail."

Joann Boyer was Kerns' English teacher at Baker High School. His own children, he said, request the literature book she used in class when it's time for their bedtime stories.

Kerns had one more living show-and-tell item for the crowd — his young grandson, Isaiah Johnson, whose sixth-great-grandfather fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill. Kerns figures Isaiah is one of about one million descendants of that ancestor.

"The people who sacrificed for us did it out of a sense of love," Kerns said. "We need to remember what it is that makes us Americans."

He urged those gathered Monday to "write down the story of your life, so that your descendants can know something about what it was like to live in Baker County in 2002."

Also during Monday's ceremony, the Veterans of Foreign Wars presented American flags to the families — those that were available — to honor the 13 Baker County veterans who have died in recent months. The flags will be on permanent display at the cemetery, said Al Schmeits, who read off each of the names of the veterans and presented the flags to the veterans' families.

The flags were then presented to soldiers and sailors who unfurled each flag and mounted them on two semi-circles of flagpoles at the cemetery.

"As a veteran, I'm filled with all kinds of emotions today," Bill Bishop told the crowd. "Sometimes I don't even feel worthy to be called a veteran. Each of these veterans accepted the responsibility to represent their country, no matter what it took."