Memorial Day is the time we set aside to remember those who have fallen in military service to our country. Yet, no matter how many flags are placed on soldier graves there are always those whose lives — whose stories — have been forgotten.
Unlike the Unknown Soldiers in Washington, D.C., the names of these vets are often lovingly etched in marble or granite. But time moves on, families move away, and headstones begin to chip and crumble.
In the Ashland Cemetery, a few rows in and to the right of the Morton Street entrance, is the grave of Sergeant Leo Parrish, veteran of WWI who died in France the day after his 28th birthday, Oct. 11, 1918, while serving with the 304th Wagon Company.
If you would like to visit and remember the Parrish boys, the Ashland Cemetery is located on E. Main St. between Morton and Sherman streets.
Park on Morton St., near a dirt path leading into the cemetery. Look down and to the right. Within a few feet, you will quickly notice the flat Claude Parrish marker. Leo Parrish's upright marker is the adjacent stone in the same row.
You won't find Sgt. Parrish's name listed on any Ashland war memorial or recorded in any histories of Ashland's fallen soldiers. Parrish was born and lived most of his life in Klamath County, spending only a few brief months in Ashland when he was almost a teenager. So why is he buried in Ashland?
Leo Parrish, Lee to his friends, was born a few miles north of the California border near Spring Lake, Ore., on Oct. 10, 1890. He was the first child from the marriage of his father Henry and mother Minnie. Younger brother Claude was born three years later.
By 1900, the marriage was in trouble. Minnie was getting a divorce and would soon marry a man from Portland. Henry Parrish moved with his boys to Ashland, where tragedy struck just few months later.
In September, 7-year-old Claude was returning from school with his friends. The boys decided to hop a ride home on a passing wagon. Little Claude wasn't able to jump up onto the rear, so he ran around to the side where a step near the brake and front wheel looked to be easier.
But his foot slipped and, as he fell, his right leg caught in the spokes of the wheel. The driver stopped as quickly as he could, but by then the wheel had made several turns. Claude was rushed to a doctor where the leg was amputated and surgery performed on his other injuries. He lingered in pain for 16 hours and died the next morning.
The next day, Claude was buried in the Ashland Cemetery, his grave marked with a flat stone bearing no dates, but just a heartfelt message:
"Little Claude Parrish. A little flower of love that blossomed but to die."
Henry and Leo returned to Klamath County. Leo farmed with his father and his father's new wife, Nellie, until he was 20 and then joined with friends Judd and Lloyd Low and Jay Adams as a partner in a farm and ranch near Tule Lake. Soon he had married Josephine Harvey, daughter of a prominent Lakeview rancher.
When war was declared in 1917, the partners sold the farm and in December, Leo joined the Army. Josephine followed him while he trained near San Francisco and then near Jacksonville, Fla., where he was enrolled in the 304th Wagon Company, a unit made up of barely 40 men who offered logistic support to the 20th Engineering Regiment. Leo was promoted to Wagon Master Sergeant before shipping out to France just before August 1918.
There he was almost immediately put in charge of 20 men and sent off to the front. He was reported healthy and in high spirits at the time, but within a week he was down with pneumonia and taken to the hospital at Is Sur Tille, in eastern France.
"Sergeant Parrish was only sick about five days," wrote Leo's company commander in a letter to Leo's wife, "and his death was a great shock to all of us as he had only been in the hospital a few days and we thought he only had the grippe.
"We will have a military funeral today. We know what a loss he is from our midst, and can realize with the deepest of sympathy what it must mean to you."
Leo's friend and partner, Lloyd Low, a future Klamath County Sheriff, learned of Leo's death while on his way home from France in 1919. A soldier who had served with Leo told Lloyd that he believed "Parrish, with his do or die determination, became sick, and even though sick, remained on duty."
By U.S. law of the time, next of kin could choose between a permanent burial of their loved one on foreign soil, or bring them home for a private funeral.
In January 1921, Leo Parrish's body was returned to Oregon. His mother insisted that he be buried next to his brother Claude in the Ashland Cemetery.
Ashland's American Legion Post conducted the military funeral that was attended by a small gathering of mourners, including Leo's wife, father, mother and stepmother.
His father had left Oregon for Central California soon after Leo's death and his mother had returned to the Portland area. There both would stay for the rest of their lives. Josephine, Leo's wife, returned to her father's Lakeview ranch and was living there as late as 1920 before we lose track of her. She and Leo never had children.
Perhaps his relatives returned to visit Leo and Claude's graves from time to time and perhaps not, but the boys needn't be lonely and forgotten. In the words of an old saying:
"You never really die until the last person says your name."
Writer Bill Miller lives in Shady Cove. Reach him at email@example.com.