The Antelope Valley has all kinds of spectacular stuff going on around the Fourth of July. One of the nicest among them is one of the most unassuming, and of all places, it happens in a cemetery.

The Fourth of July weekend weighs in, and in the heavyweight range, almost midway between those keystone events — just a month or so after Memorial Day opening up the lazy, crazy days of summer, and a month or so before the Antelope Valley Fair, and the opening round of the fall season,

Labor Day.

We have professional bull riding at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds. We have baseball and fireworks. We have a lot of fireworks. Sane, a few, and

mostly insane.

The meme going around says “Children, do not light fireworks. Let the adults who have been drinking all day handle that.” Food for thought.

But on the morning of the Fourth of July, the holiday began with sunshine and pancakes. Jin Hur, of Crazy Otto’s restaurants, his wife, Uno, and Juan and Atherine Blanco of Coffee4Vets worked the griddle and the rope line as volunteers.

Community support for the Friends of the Lancaster Cemetery turns out, and so do nearly 100 folks, many of them veterans, and the ones that

love them.

“Really? The Fourth of July, and a cookout in a cemetery?” a good friend asked me.

Sure. It’s one of the few times and places in the Antelope Valley over the Fourth of July period, where it’s unlikely that something will explode or

catch fire.

The ingredients are as simple as flapjacks. Pancakes, coffee and real deal patriotism. The pancakes are served up with red strawberries, nice blueberries and a spritz of Cool Whip, so that the red, white and blue is right there on your plate.

The fixings are served up in a park that offers long stretches of shaded, tree-lined walkways with thousands of the Valley’s pioneer families, and many, many veterans in a setting that rivals Arlington National Cemetery on a smaller scale for the green and the beautiful.

Dave Owens of the cemetery’s Board of Directors made everyone feel welcome and there was a little bit of education, served up as entertainment.

Judy Hatcher of the Daughters Of The American Revolution offered a brief retrospective on Patrick Henry and the story behind “Give me liberty or give me death.”

He wasn’t with the founders when he said it. He was at the Second Virginia Convention in 1775 and he made a lot of fellow Virginians nervous, who weren’t sure they wanted liberty enough to take sides.

We know how it turned out.

Another stalwart of the Friends of the Lancaster Cemetery is Bob Alvis. Bob is many things. Veteran of the U.S. Air Force and custodian of history of World War II veterans near and far.

Along with his old Air Force stripes, Bob wears his heart on his sleeve and tears up easily. He is a lay scholar on the subject of his favorite aircraft, the P-38 Lightning, one of legendary engineer Kelly Johnson’s earlier aerial masterpieces.

But on the fabulous Fourth, he served up a story about another kind of legendary engineer — Casey Jones.

He retains the joy of a boy on Christmas morning when the subject of trains comes up. He introduces the subject. Donning the engineer’s cap and wearing the pinstriped bib overalls of a pioneer railroad man, Bob served up the legend of Casey Jones, to include the engineer’s religion (adopted Catholic), the number of his children, the story of his courtship, every promotion and discipline — right up until the historic death of the man known as “The

Brave Engineer.”

Channeling Casey, Sgt. Bob said, “Can you believe The Grateful Dead made a song about me and that Walt Disney made a movie? I can’t believe

it myself.”

By years, months, weeks and finally, days, Bob took us through what made Casey Jones, well, legendary. In short, he pulled on the brakes of that steam locomotive.

As Jerry Garcia spooled it out, “Trouble ahead ... trouble behind, Casey Jones you better watch your speed.”

With an impending collision with another train, Casey yanked on the brakes and kept yanking. It was a train wreck, alright. But all of his

passengers survived.

That would be the great thing about history as storytelling. You learn things you didn’t know, shared by people who had a passion for the story. Sticking to the facts, and yet, somehow, still, preserving the legend.

After the pancakes, we went to the supermarket and rode out an earthquake.

After the sunset, a few combat vet buddies and the ones that loved them, found a rooftop and a cooler.

“O’er the ramparts we watched ... “

We watched the fireworks and we felt a little ease of mind that comes with knowing “Our flag was still there ... “

Dennis Anderson is a licensed clinical social worker at High Desert Medical Group where he works on veterans and community health issues. An Army paratrooper veteran of the Cold War, as Valley Press editor, he embedded with California National Guard troops from the Antelope Valley, the first California unit deployed during the invasion of Iraq.

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