John R. Walker Jr., a major fixture in Watsonville’s landscape of firefighting, parades and labor task force, died Jan. 27 of pancreatic cancer. He was 84.
Walker served as a Watsonville Reserve Firefighter for three decades, and left that post as Reserve Lt. Co. No. 1. He also served in the U.S. Navy, for which he fought in the Vietnam War.
But Walker was perhaps best known for driving an antique Watsonville Fire truck during Fourth of July parades dressed as Uncle Sam, sporting—among other things—a towering red, white and blue top hat and his iconic salt-and-pepper beard. He also drove the truck for the Veteran’s Day parades and Watsonville High School Homecoming parades.
“It was a joy knowing him — alway a joy,” said former Watsonville Fire Battalion Chief Will Farr. “He had a great sense of humor, always with a joke, but a hard worker. We worked so many fires together but it was different: It was kind of fun because he knew how to go hard, but then he knew how to relax and chill a bit; it was a good mix.”
On Wednesday, dozens of family, friends, and firefighters (both current and retired) gathered at Pajaro Valley Memorial Park to give Walker a sendoff, during which they carried his flag-draped casket to the Pajaro Valley Mausoleum aboard the 1941 GMC fire truck that he loved to drive. The procession arrived along with a string of police and fire vehicles during powerful winds and rain.
Walker was born in Honolulu, Hawaii on Jan. 15, 1940, to Laura Chun Walker and John R. Walker Sr. He spent most of his childhood in Watsonville, where he met the love of his life, Jenny Fraga, in 1964 while cruising Main Street. They would have celebrated their 59th anniversary in April.
Walker worked for Ametek/Indalex for 40 years on Lee Road. He was a life member of VFW Post 1716 and a member of the American Legion. For many years he volunteered at the VFW Friday night dinners and called Bingo.
After the sendoff at the cemetery, the crowd gathered at Watsonville Fire Station 1, which is attached to the Chief Gene Friend Fire Museum, which Walker helped create.
“It was overwhelming seeing the procession and all the people today,” said Walker’s daughter, Kim Caquimbal. “The support he has seen and the showing today has simply been unreal. These firefighters, everyone really showed it.”
He was Secretary for the Firefighter’s Club, and would give tours of the fire museum and help at the annual BBQ for the opening day of the Fair.
Walker loved sports, and his all-time favorite team was the 49ers, who met his predictions that they would make it to the Superbowl, a game he did not live to see.
Funeral services were held at Ave Maria Memorial Chapel in front of the long drive out to the cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family would prefer any donations to be made to the Watsonville Firefighters Association Museum Fund, 115 Second St. Watsonville, CA 95076.