Honor Ventura's 1860s Army hero, but act with caution

•By Patricia Clark Doerner Ventura County Star •Posted July 26, 2010 at 5:53 p.m.


Army Pvt. James Sumner was indeed a hero and he suffered the fate of many a hero, evidently succumbing to alcoholism either before or during his stint as a bartender in Oxnard (he lived in Ventura County for nine years).

The Indian Wars (1866-1890), particularly those fought in Arizona, were bloody; the atrocities on both sides, horrendous. But Pvt. Sumner did his duty and suffered the consequences.

But he also is one of 425 awarded the prestigious Medal of Honor “for gallantry in action” in these Indian Wars — and I, for one, am proud to have him as a part of our history. He chose to live here and for that reason, died here — as Ventura activist Brian Rencher has pointed out — not in Bakersfield, where it is proposed he be moved.

Pvt. Sumner deserves to be honored as do all the veterans in Ventura’s Cemetery Memorial Park: 54 Civil War veterans and 20 Spanish American War veterans (it is a matter of law that veterans’ graves not be disturbed).

But it is appropriate that Pvt. Sumner receive first honors, first consideration, and I am certain his fellow veterans would agree. It is for that reason that I propose that the city allocate a portion of its $300,000 Cemetery Memorial Park budget for an appropriate headstone for Pvt. Sumner.

It is my belief that the city leaders are now taking steps to rectify the wrong done by their predecessors in the 1960s, while considering the rights of those living adjacent to the cemetery. It is a difficult and hazardous tightrope they are walking and they are aware of it — hence it is a slow process.

Also worthy of consideration: retired Marine Sgt. Craig “Gunny” Donor, who is on a quest to give Pvt. Sumner a proper burial, is an honorable man — dedicated, with his Patriot Guard Riders, to seeing to the appropriate burial of veterans, particularly homeless veterans.

He does not feel that Pvt. Sumner has been treated with proper respect, nor does he feel that the other 74 veterans in Cemetery Memorial Park are being treated appropriately.

The city is citing cemetery law to allow for the removal of Pvt. Sumner, which is appropriate — any site containing more than 3,000 bodies is a cemetery.

But in doing so, the city is creating a dangerous precedent that would allow Sgt. Donor to follow through on his stated intention of removing all veterans from the site.

Seventy-four disinterments would wreak more havoc than those dogs we see romping through the area.

Speaking of dogs: while I was on camera with Hal Eisner of Fox News, interviewing a few people for a broadcast regarding Pvt. Sumner, there was a blond Lab sitting on my foot, another defecating behind me, and a minimum of 12 dogs running through the cemetery. Leash law, where art thou?

— Patricia Clark Doerner of Ojai is a member of a Ventura County pioneering family.

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