Six veterans of the Spanish-American war, a short four-month conflict in 1898, are among the more than 230 veterans buried at Myrtle Grove Memorial Cemetery in Eureka who were honored this morning.
The ceremony, which began in the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — coinciding with the 1918 end of World War I — honored those who have served in the military and have ties to Humboldt County.
“Today, we honor all of our veterans who unselfishly placed their lives on the line for our freedom,” said Clinton Ellis-Gilmore, a member of the Redwood Veterans Honor Guard, which participates in Memorial Day and Veterans Day events at Myrtle Grove. “Those men and women were ordinary people until they heard the call of duty and answered it.”
Speaking about the history and meaning of Veterans Day, and its beginnings as Armistice Day after World War I ended, he encouraged people to participate in the process.
“If we want to preserve our freedoms, we must put them into action,” Ellis-Gilmore said. “For example, by voting in elections or speaking out against injustices. We must also ensure that everyone feels the benefits of freedom and we can do that by volunteering in our communities or by teaching our children what it really means to be an American.”
Milton Phegley, one of the organizers of this morning’s event, spoke about the men who are buried at Myrtle Grove and are veterans of the Spanish-American War, which came about when the United States chose to defend Cuba as it fought Spain for its independence.
“As rich as the history is to do with the Civil War is here, we have another war that at least I and I suspect many others know virtually nothing about — the Spanish-American War,” he said. “And we have six veterans from the Spanish-American War buried here. Three came after the war to the county, three of them were here at that time.”
Phegley highlighted veterans including William Diffendoffer, a native of Petaluma, who served in Company “B” of the 6th California Infantry.
“(He) eventually came to Eureka about 1914 or so,” said Phegley. “At the time of his death, he was employed as a clerk at a cigar store in Eureka in 1934.”
Edward Lincoln Ebaugh “served as a private in the coast artillery that was deployed here on the West Coast with formal military fortifications against the potential invading Spanish fleet.”
He also spoke about Joseph Rafie Gephart, who served during the brief Spanish-American War. His father, a veteran of the Civil War, is also buried at Myrtle Grove.
“If the name Louis Gephart means anything to you, Steelhead Louie’s Sporting Goods store,” he said. “That was one of Joseph Gephart’s nephews.”
Kirby Nunn, who is instrumental in the efforts to clean up and maintain Myrtle Grove Memorial Cemetery, provided an update on volunteers’ efforts for those in attendance this morning.
“The cemetery is very special to us,” she said, noting there were 1,802 graves noted on the findagrave.com website when restoration efforts began. “… With the help of volunteers inputting information on the members that are buried here, we are now up to 4,689 entries. There’s an estimated 6,000 people buried here, so we’re still not done, but we’ll get there.”
The volunteers in the past few years have unearthed 432 buried headstones.
“(We) found one last week, so still finding them,” she said. “It amazes us now every time we find one because we’re sure we’ve probed there before.”
The volunteers have also restored gravestones that were leveled decades ago.
“We have stood up 370 headstones that the cemetery association laid down in the ‘50s to make it easier to mow,” she said. “Now, it’s harder to mow but that’s not the purpose of a cemetery.”
Nunn’s efforts to share the work being done attracted to Eureka residents to today’s Veterans Day ceremony after she spoke at a group both men are part of, the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association.
Roland Pearce and Don Garrison said Nunn spoke to their group and it spiked their interest.
“My great-grandfather was a civil war veteran,” said Garrison. “So, I wanted to learn more of the history.”
Nunn told attendees there is more restoration work to do and she welcomes more volunteers.
“We’re trying to make this the historical memorial park that it deserves to be,” she said.
Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.