Of the Baker City Herald

Kailyn McQuisten is far too tiny to say the word hero, but she seems to know a hero when she sees one go by in a fire truck or a police car.

Kailyn is only a year old.

She is, however, strong enough to hold aloft, one in each chubby little fist, an American flag on a staff almost as tall as she is.

And though Kailyn may have been the smallest among the hundreds of spectators at Wednesday evenings parade through downtown Baker City, she seemed somehow the perfect symbol for the event.

There is no one so innocent as a baby, and it is the innocent for whom the heroes who were honored Wednesday risk their lives.

They came from all over Northeastern Oregon.

Main Street sparkled in the dusk with the flashing lights of police cars from Union. And fire engines, more than two dozen of them, from Keating and Richland and La Grande and many other places.

The idea, said parade organizer Gary Timm of the Baker City Fire Department, was to invite firefighters and police officers and paramedics from Baker and Union counties to gather here and honor their colleagues who died saving lives in Manhattan and Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11.

But it was more than that.

It was a show of unity, too, a demonstration of the pride and patriotism that have invigorated so many gatherings across America the past two weeks.

Im just really proud that they did it, said Johanna McQuisten, Kailyns mom, as she held her daughter high, caring not at all that she wont remember this moment.

Just across the street are week-and-a-half newlyweds Herman and Rachel Webb. They stand near the curb, holding hands and smiling as the trucks rumble by.

The Webbs have seen America at war. Herman, who turned 93 on Tuesday, was 33 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the United States into historys bloodiest conflict.

But neither he nor his new wife said they have ever experienced such a thing as the overwhelming tide of pride in America that has engulfed the country since Sept. 11.

I never saw anything like this, even during Pearl Harbor, Rachel said. This just thrills me to see this because Im a red-blooded American. I think its brought a state of unity among the people that maybe nothing else could have.

Pretty fantastic, Herman said.

Denise Fournier of Baker City said she felt it was her duty as an American to watch Wednesdays parade.

I believe that our country needs all the support it can take, she said as a group of firefighters and police officers walked a few feet away, carrying a huge American flag.

We need to stand as one. This country means everything to us.

Fournier, who had painted a flag on her cheek, said she tries to instill the same feelings in her three daughters. Crystal, whos 12, stood beside her mother Wednesday, holding a flag of her own.

Sandy Berry sat on the curb between her daughters, Melissa, 3, and Christina, 8.

Sandy said she knows Melissa is too young to understand the connection between the fire trucks and the pretty lights and the loud sirens, and the unthinkable events that occurred two weeks ago.

But Sandy, whose brother is a reserve deputy with the Baker County Sheriffs Office, believes even toddlers need to know that firefighters and police officers are people they can look up to and trust.

And she wants Melissa to know too what that flag, which seemed to be everywhere Wednesday, stands for.

I think they should be proud of America, Sandy said.