BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Memorial Day. For the over 50,000 veterans and their loved ones that call Kern County home, it’s a time of remembrance, for those that served their country and made the ultimate sacrifice. Saturday is the first time since 2019 that the Memorial Day ceremony at the Bakersfield National Cemetery will be open to the public.
The Bakersfield National Cemetery is expecting to see upwards of 600 attendees for Saturday's ceremony. But some Kern County veterans and fellow community members were there ahead of the day to put up flags and flag holders on each gravesite. They say it’s important to memorialize their loved ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“These citizens gave their lives so that the current citizens could continue their current lifestyle. And it’s very important for us veterans to continue honoring our brothers and sisters, who served and gave the maximum they could,” said Joe Acosta, a U.S. Army veteran.
Acosta says it’s a small thing but goes a long way. Veterans of different services and community members uniting to remember the fallen. But honoring those that elect to protect our freedoms he says shouldn’t just happen on the holiday.
Following a 21-year career in the army across three wars Acosta became the director of the Bakersfield Vet Center in 2012 when the previous director died in the line of duty. Acosta helped fellow disabled veterans find their way following their service.
“I did it because I felt it was my duty to help other veterans. It would be like helping myself. That’s why I’m here the day before because it’s still my duty. I swore an oath to this country. And I intend to keep it until the day I die.”
Acosta was not the only one who arrived at the cemetery Friday morning.
“I get emotional when I see Robbi’s name.”
Robbi was Gene Bonas' wife of almost 27 years. The veteran who spent six years in the Navy during the Vietnam war visits his beloved two to three times a week. He brings her flowers and sits across from her. Bonas lost his wife a year ago this past Easter to Parkinson’s disease. While Robbi is not a veteran, veterans and their spouses are buried here. He recalls one of the last moments with her.
“I told her how much I loved her and I noticed a very slight smile. So I’ll take that to my grave, and of course, we’ll both be buried here together.”
This year is also significant for the loved ones of a particular veteran and officer: fallen Sheriff Deputy Phillip Campas. That’s because this year is the first Memorial Day his family will share with campus interred at the Bakersfield National Cemetery since last summer.
The president of the Bakersfield National Cemetery Support Committee, Dick Taylor, knows his family well and his son and Campas were once friends. He says the fact Campas is one of the thousands of veterans honored at the ceremony brings strong emotions.
“It is surreal. Phillips’ dad Jesse and I were friends for years, even before Phillip was born. I knew Phillip growing up as a kid. He worked for us in high school, Taylor Tire & Brake, as a senior in high school and quarterback at East High. He worked part-time there and followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Marine Corps."
Taylor recalls how Campas served in Afghanistan, in other capacities in the Marine Corps as a drill instructor and served as one at Paris Island in South Carolina, eventually leaving the Marine Corps to join the Kern County Sheriff’s Office and serving on the SWAT team where he was ultimately killed during a hostage situation in Wasco.
“But he loved doing what he did. Just one of those people that makes you want to run a little faster and stand up a little bit taller, and do a better job. And he always had a great smile with these little dimples that’s hard to forget," said Taylor.
It’s that memory and the legacy of those that have served us that Taylor says we need to remember all year round not just on Memorial Day and weekend.
The KCSO honor guard will also be honoring Campas' memory, with a special demonstration dedicated to the fallen deputy.
The ceremony for family and friends will take place Saturday morning from 7 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.. Then the public ceremony will start at 9 a.m.