Last week I walked among the dead. I paused at headstones and read the names and epitaphs on the hill in Crescent City. It’s been a long time since I strolled through a cemetery.
My parents and I explored cemeteries together in the Los Angeles area one summer when I was a kid. We wandered among the statues and sculptures and read the inscriptions on tombs at memorial parks like Forest Lawn. Besides being the final resting place of famous people, the park boasts architectural landmarks like Wee Kirk o’ the Heather chapel where Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman in 1940.
Valentino, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer – all my mother’s favorite silent screen stars – are buried at Hollywood Memorial. When we were there, Mom took the opportunity to tell me what she knew about these legends.
Last Wednesday I walked among the gravesites at Crescent City’s Catholic Cemetery searching for one particular family. For months I have been piecing together the story of Lt. Clifford Kamph for whom the State Park in Smith River is named. Clifford died at the age of 28 on a training mission during World War II. His parents donated some of their property to Del Norte County in Clifford’s memory and in memory of all veterans to be used as a park to memorialize their only son. I discovered few people could tell me anything about Clifford Kamph or why the park was named after him.
I found Clifford’s parents Edward and Melita buried next to their 7-year-old daughter Irene who died of polio in 1927 at the age of 7. Clifford’s marker is on the other side of his parents. Seeing where the family was buried was the last step in making them real to me.
As I was leaving the Kamphs, I realized that I was not far from the spot where Del Norte County’s most recent war hero is buried. I went over to pay my respects to Bruno and read the words on his headstone. I closed my eyes and remembered his family and the pain that began last September. As I looked down the hill I saw another new and heavily decorated gravesite. A pink headstone carved in the shape of a heart belongs to another young soul who passed last September, 18-year-old Breena. The photo on her marker is the same one we published for her obituary. I recalled conversations I’d had with her mother shortly after the accident. Sometimes a publisher’s job is just to listen.
I passed the Burtschells, a row of daughters or daughters-in-law going back over 100 years. And I recognized the names Bertsch, Endert and DeMartin and realized I was walking through a history lesson about the pioneers of Del Norte County.
My quest to know about Clifford Kamph and to tell his story took me down a path that ended in the cemetery. I drove away reflecting on the inevitable. Would I have a headstone here some day? Would I rest among the souls of Del Norte County?
“Memorials of Del Norte County,” featuring many of our local memorials will be in tomorrow’s Triplicate. I’ve given Clifford Kamph State Park the most ink. As a mother, I feel that Clifford Kamph’s parents deserve to have their son’s story retold. No child, especially a veteran, should be buried and forgotten. I hope Clifford Kamph State Park will be regarded with new interest. There should at least be a plaque there explaining who Clifford was. Perhaps in the future there could be Memorial Day and Veterans Day services at the park. We owe that to the Kamphs who, 60 years ago, made the ultimate sacrifice then gave even more so that Clifford would always be remembered.
Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher at 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.