Column: They’re relighting an Oregon torch with special memories

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 9, 2001

Jennifer &uot;Jenn&uot; Hemming-sen, former member of the Tribune staff, is now the regional reporter for the East Oregonian newspaper in Pendleton, Ore.

Friday, November 09, 2001

Jennifer &uot;Jenn&uot; Hemming-sen, former member of the Tribune staff, is now the regional reporter for the East Oregonian newspaper in Pendleton, Ore. Just by coincidence, Pendleton is about a hundred miles north of Baker City, Ore. where I was born and spent the first 18 years of my life.

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In a recent message Jenn said Baker City is &uot;part of my beat.&uot; She also sent the following new release dated Sept. 14 which said in part:

&uot;Baker County Commission Chairman Brian Cole announced today that the torch on the east lawn of the Baker County Courthouse will once again burn proudly in honor of America’s service men and women.

&uot;The torch stands atop of a monument that pays tribute to veterans of World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. In total, 142 names are listed on the monument.

‘America’s freedoms have been challenged, and it will be the courage of the American people, and particularly those that serve in our military, to prove once again that our nation is the bravest and strongest in the world,’ Cole said.&uot;

This particular monument really revives some sad memories for me. A few of the names listed are those of the older brothers of my fellow students at Baker High School. Other last names are from families I was familiar with during my growing up years in the city and county.

There’s another name on this monument which had a special place in my life. This is a person I’ll call &uot;Bully Bob.&uot;

He was about two years older and from a different part of town. And, to put it bluntly, Bully Bob was a really big and mean kid who was to be avoided whenever possible.

When I was growing up in Baker (the original name of City was dropped about 1911 and restored in 1991), my father’s nickname was passed along to me. That despised nickname was &uot;dummy.&uot; It was based on his status as a deaf person who had a definite speech impediment. I became known as the &uot;dummy’s kid&uot; and the focus of all too much brutal teasing.

By the time I was in junior high and high school the harassing had nearly ceased. Most of those older kids had grown up, gone into the military service, or left town. The only big kid who still gave me grief at every opportunity was Bully Bob.

The year I was a junior in high school, Bully Bob was a senior. (He had failed a grade in elementary school.) Right after Bully Bob became 18 he was drafted for World War II service.

He returned to Baker on furlough several months later and came to the high school every day for about a week. He told each class he visited that the students should study harder, which is something this muscle-bound dim bulb hadn’t ever done in school. He also told us he was going overseas as a U.S. Army infantryman and wouldn’t be coming back alive. His morbid message really bothered the students and teachers.

One day I was out by the bike rack getting ready to go home when Bully Bob came around the corner of the building. I figured this would just be some more harassment from a real jerk and certified bully.

Instead, Bully Bob apologized for giving me so much grief in the past. He asked for my forgiveness so he could go overseas with a clear conscience. And again Bully Bob said he would be coming back to Baker in a flag-draped casket. I accepted his apology and we shook hands.

Bully Bob was right. A few months later the local newspaper reported he had been killed in action somewhere in the Philippine Islands. According to one unverified report, Bully Bob had left a landing craft in early 1945 and was shot by sniper before he even made it to the beach.

Special thanks go to Jenn for reviving a poignant World War II-era memory from my original Oregon home town.

Feature writer Ed Shannon’s column appears Fridays in the Tribune.