Even the best of plans can’t always sidestep unplanned surprises. As the last of folks prepared to leave Lancaster Cemetery following a tribute to Independence Day, the ground moved and everyone grabbed hold of a pole or table — anything to keep upright.
At roughly 10:33 a.m., a magnitude 6.4 temblor in Ridgecrest rattled nerves as it sent waves across the state. Nature’s performance didn’t detract from the successful 11th annual pancake breakfast fundraiser sponsored by the Friends of Lancaster Cemetery, an event which gave community residents an opportunity to reflect on this nation’s 243rd anniversary, as well as the Red, White and Blue that Americans pledge their allegiance to.
Dayle DeBry, the cemetery district manager, welcomed the crowd of more than 100 area residents who came prepared to devour pancakes with syrup and all the trimmings, some showing up at 8 a.m. She turned the podium over to Dave Owens, chairman of the cemetery district’s board of trustees.
“It’s just a beautiful day,” said Owens, breathing in the crisp morning air. “We’re pleased to have all the people from the community come out and join us,” he added, speaking on behalf of his board colleagues — Richard Cook and Cynthia Poole.
Owens gave a shout out to Karla Archuleta, office assistant at the cemetery, for getting her family involved behind the scenes.
“You’ve got all your kids to work. I’m impressed,” Owens said. He added a special thanks to Jin Hur, owner of Crazy Otto’s; Juan Blanco, president of Coffee4Vets; Atherine Blanco and the entire crew that served hungry diners, who lined up at the makeshift kitchen under a canopy cover.
“If you want to wave your flag here, go ahead. It’s okay,” Owens told the crowd.
Money raised from the pancake breakfast, which cost $5 per adult and $3 for children 10 and younger, goes toward ensuring that every veteran buried at the cemetery has a headstone; maintaining all the monuments; and providing bricks for the Veterans Walk of Honor, said DeBry.
In fact, DeBry displayed a brick dedicated to longtime AV resident LeeRoy Halley, who died on June 11 at age 76, just weeks before his 77th birthday. Halley had been a combat medic in the National Guard, and he was an owner of Halley-Olsen-Murphy Funeral Home in Lancaster. He also committed time and energy to various charitable organizations throughout the Antelope Valley.
DeBry shared some historic Antelope Valley trivia with the crowd when she read a story published in the 50th Anniversary Edition of the Antelope Valley Ledger-Gazette, the paper of record from 1886 to 1936. Below is an excerpt from that newspaper story:
“Quite different from today’s life was the social side of the pioneers. Not so much because work demanded so much time, but rather because life itself was different. With no automobiles, no electricity, no communal centers, a far smaller population, it was but natural that gatherings would be few and far between. But when they did hold a social event it was on a grand scale.
“Fourth of July was the big day of the year for them. The whole Valley — Mom, Pop and all the children would gather cousins and aunts, together with some of the neighbors, deck the wagon with bunting, put in supplies for three days and drive to the Garcia Cienega picnic grounds, two miles from Littlerock.
“Arriving there, camp would be pitched, and all gathered around a roaring campfire, singing and chatting, telling all that had happened during the year.”
Entertainment at the cemetery included a review of the life of Patrick Henry, an attorney, orator and former governor of Virginia, presented by Judy Hatcher, a member of the AV Daughters of the American Revolution; and a living history tribute to American legend and train engineer Casey Jones, an American legend and train engineer, portrayed by Bob Alvis, a railroad enthusiast and host of the veteran interview program AV Veterans Talk.
“I grew up not knowing I had a revolutionary heritage,” Hatcher said. Her sister did some research and discovered the ancestral lineage. Hatcher joined the AV Daughters of the American Revolution about 17 years ago.
Henry was born May 29,1736, in the colony of Virginia. Although he was never elected to a national office, he served five one-year terms as governor of Virginia and he was a founding father of the United States, helping the 13 colonies to unite, according to Hatcher.
He had served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and is remembered for his most famous speech, “Give me liberty or give me death,” made to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775, at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Va. Delegates to that Convention included future U.S. presidents George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Henry urged the delegation to approve sending military troops from Virginia to the American Revolutionary War, also known as the American War of Independence.
Alvis said when Americans celebrate the military, they celebrate many aspects of the nation’s heritage.
“When we celebrate America, we have to think of so many things.” He contended that railroads played a big part in the growth of this nation.
“Casey Jones, a hero, did not wear a (military) uniform,” Alvis noted. He was a train engineer and “a rock star of that generation.”
He was born Jonathan Luther Jones on March 14, 1863, in Missouri, but his family moved to Cayce, Kentucky, when he was a teen. He gained the nickname Casey and, Alvis said, that name followed him the rest of his life.
His fascination with trains began in his childhood. He would go to the local train station, climb up on the roof and watch the trains pass. His goal was to become a train engineer. He converted to Catholicism to marry the other love of his life, Mary Joanna Brady. They had three children and bought a house in Jackson, Miss., which meant he had to travel as a railroad employee.
Eventually he was promoted to the position of engineer and drove a passenger train called the Cannonball, a fast locomotive. One cold, rainy and foggy night, the train he was scheduled to drive ran late. Jones boarded when it finally arrived and did his best to made up for lost time. As he approached tracks where a freight train had stalled, his visibility was obscured. The date was April 30,1900. He finally spotted the stalled train too late. He ordered his assistant to jump off the Cannonball. That man obeyed and sustained some injury but survived. All the passengers also survived. Casey Jones was the only fatality in that crash.
Folks attending the pancake breakfast commented on how meaningful Independence Day is to them.
“It’s a time to reflect on the importance of our independence and what’s made the country great,” said Lancaster City Councilman Ken Mann. “We take all the inherent rights we have as citizens for granted all year long. This is our time to be able to appreciate the freedom that we have.
“The people here today are not just here for breakfast,” Mann said. “They’re thinking about the Fourth of July. They’re all appreciative. That’s why they’re here. They’d be adamant about how important it is to respect the flag. I’m obviously speculating, but I don’t think I’m too far off.”
“We should be thanking the patriots that authored our constitution and the patriots that defended the constitution every day so we can have holidays like this,” Palmdale Mayor Steve Hofbauer said. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about barbecues and swimming pools. It’s about the freedoms that we all enjoy today. It’s about standing for our flag.”
U.S. Army veteran Doug Davis served in the Gulf War. He enjoyed the event at the cemetery for the camaraderie he found. “This here was a great deal,” he said. “It was a blessing. I met people I didn’t know.”
U.S. Navy veteran Phil Roberts served in the military from 1958 to 1978. He was in Da Nang, Vietnam, in January 1970. He flew over on a supply mission with VP Squadron out of NAS Moffett Field. He handled parts for the airplanes and served on two carriers and one supply ship.
Roberts said, “15 minutes after our airplane left, the spot our airplane was sitting on didn’t exist. It was blown away.”
Roberts values Independence Day with heartfelt reverence.
“When I was growing up and still today, a lot of our young men sacrificed their lives for our freedoms,” Roberts said. “The Fourth of July is the day we celebrate the greatness of the United States.”