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Retired sailor to participate in his 39th Memorial Day ceremony

With his boatswain’s pipe around his neck, Jim Kerson (USN ret.) gives a salute at last year’s Memorial Day ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery, hosted by Fleet Reserve Association Branch 29. - Courtesy photo
With his boatswain’s pipe around his neck, Jim Kerson (USN ret.) gives a salute at last year’s Memorial Day ceremony at Forest Lawn Cemetery, hosted by Fleet Reserve Association Branch 29.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

The shrill sound of Jim Kerson’s boatswain’s pipe is one that has filled the air at the Fleet Reserve Association’s Memorial Day ceremony for 39 years now.

“My talents followed me into my civilian life,” the 77-year-old said of his participation in the annual ceremony. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The retired sailor and FRA Branch 29 member has participated in the event since 1967. This year he will once again be present to perform the ceremonial calls which he describes as “taking a lot of lung power.”

This year’s ceremony begins at 11 a.m. Monday, May 29 at the Forest Lawn Cemetery, located at 5409 Kitsap Way. The ceremony is hosted at the flag pole with participation from the Ladies Auxiliary of FRA Unit 29 and a Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor Marine rifle detachment. Capt. Dan Peters, commander of Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility, will serve as guest speaker.

“It’s excellent, it’s really a see-worthy performance,” Kerson said of the event.

For 20 years, Kerson served as a boatswain’s mate in the Navy, before retiring in 1966. He last served aboard the now-decommissioned supply ship USS Sacramento.

“I never dreamed I would see my good vessel go out,” he said.

Prior to his retirement, Kerson joined the FRA in 1963.

“The FRA is an organization the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard can turn to like a union,” he said. “We work closely with lobbyists maintained in (Washington,) D.C. Through FRA, sailors have benefited a lot in the last 50 years.”

The organization’s annual Memorial Day event is one that Kerson holds near and dear to his heart.

“It’s a very important day because I get to honor my shipmates,” he said. “As I stand before the mass, I recall some of my favorite shipmates and wonder why they left us.”

He adds that at least 12 of his fellow sailors are now buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery.

“It’s important for me to know that I’m representing the departed shipmates,” he said.

As long as he’s able, Kerson says he will continue to participate in the ceremony.

“He’s the best I’ve ever seen,” said Bob Crann, fellow FRA Brach 29 member.

“He’s good, really good.”

“That’s what he keeps telling me. That’s why I keep coming back,” Kerson said with a chuckle.

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