PALOUSE, Wash. – To this small community 12 miles north of Pullman, Army Sgt. Jacob H. Demand who died in Iraq Tuesday was simply Jake.
He was the good-natured kid who hunted with friends, did odd jobs for local farmers and could be counted on for the high school baseball team. He was friendly and fun. As his mother says, “he was a big galumphing puppy.”
On Saturday, just four days after learning of Demand’s death, his family turned to their community to mourn. “We just want to be with the town today,” said his mother, Char Baldwin, between tearful hugs from old friends. Baldwin, flushed and weary, was flanked by her husband Bruce and other family members as the annual community celebration Palouse Days unfolded.
Demand’s younger brother Tim was there with his 6-month-old baby Jasmyn, a niece the 29-year-old soldier never got to see. The streets were filled with high school friends like Matt Atkinson and Dave Blankenship, his teachers, his coaches, his neighbors. “He was just a real good kid,” said G.A. Perry, a World War II veteran who spent time with the high-schooler, helping out at a local cattle ranch.
Memories of the boy Jake filled the streets that he once strolled after school with his buddies. He was up the hill where one time he and a friend dragged old tires to let loose to roll straight down into town. He was over at the swimming pool, where a joke with a candy bar got him and a few other guys barred for a summer.
There were also memories of him as a soldier who, when on leave, would come back to his hometown and seek out friends.
Through these memories Saturday morning marched the Palouse Days parade, a spare assemblage of children, dogs, horses, trucks, the high school band, and the town’s representative princesses ferried on four-wheelers. While the sun flickered between the clouds, Demand’s family watched from the sidewalk, sometimes smiling, sometimes wiping tears from their cheeks.
At the end of the parade, 38 2-ton grain trucks rumbled onto Main Street. A few had “Jake” signs in their front windows, others had posters stating “Jake: Thank you. We couldn’t be here safe today without you.”
“This is Palouse,” said Mayor Michael Echanove, pointing to the powerful display.
All at once, the trucks stopped, clogging the street with their mass. Their engines halted. The drivers, mostly farmers and their families, climbed out to join the hundreds of townspeople pouring forward to stand around the color guard.
Through the silence, the community found its voice in parade master of ceremonies Patti Green-Kent. In June 1995, Jake Demand’s military service “began without a headline,” she read from a statement put together with the help of a member of the VFW and the folks at the chamber of commerce. “His death is a reminder that it has been a bloody year,” she read. “We must turn our gaze to the deeper meaning in dying for one’s country.” She announced that on Monday the county commission was honoring Demand as a Whitman County Hero of Freedom.
Then Demand’s mother stepped forward, giving back to the community the connection it sought. “A big piece of why Jake was a great kid was that he had the privilege of living in the caring town of Palouse,” she said. “The thing about Palouse and (nearby the town of) Garfield that others may not know is that every person who plants their feet in this community is linked. Jake’s link, despite his passing, will never be broken.”
She mentioned his children, who live in Indiana, the children of the community and the children in a faraway land, for whom her son was trying to provide a better life.
She talked about the fellowship of a community that shares not only the fun and happy times, but also the sad and painful ones.
That fellowship helps give her son’s death meaning, she said. “Our family knows that the little communities of Palouse and Garfield will never let Jacob Henry Demand be just one soldier that died September 14.”