Back in November, a house fire happened in Cleveland. At the time it was rather insignificant; a boarding house fire seen by a unknown person passing by on a bicycle. By knocking on doors the cyclist was able to alert the occupants of the fire building as well as those in the exposed homes. The fire eventually damaged the exposures but not before it had claimed the lives of four people who live inside. Three of them died inside, but Ray Vivier died later in a Cleveland hospital. Ray, once woken, tried to get the other boarders out, and was successful in getting five out, but unfortunately he couldn’t beat the smoke inhalation and burns.
Maybe if Ray had been in good health, he might have made it; maybe if had Ray hadn’t had a rough go of it in life, had been living with his family instead of renting a room on Cleveland’s west side, things would have turned out different. Ray wouldn’t have been found burned, near a window, trying to get out. Ray Vivier was most likely just like one of the people we see on the highway median looking for change. Ray was born in 1948. Not much is told about his early years; he was a Private in the Marine Corps from 1965 to 1966, stationed at Parris Island. He and his family lived in South Carolina, Alaska and Oregon. Ray had ‘manly’ vocations; iron worker; welder, machinist. Unfortunately alcoholism got a good hold on his life, like it does to so many. Somewhere along the way, Ray ended up estranged from his family and in Cleveland, living under a bridge.
Fortunately, Ray had begun to find success in his life once again. In November it’s reported that he had a job, friends and was able to afford a place to live, the boarding house on West 32nd Street in Cleveland.
Ray developed friendships with people at a local soup kitchen. Jody Fresco was a kitchen volunteer and had invited Ray to her wedding. She recalled him being her partner for the father-daughter dance. All the while Ray’s own wife and children hadn’t had any contact with him for nearly 15 years.
When Jody Fresco heard that one of the victims of the boarding house fire might be Ray, she and her new husband asked a friend to help find Ray’s family. AP photographer Haraz Ghanbari went to work, tracking down Ray’s family, eventually calling every Vivier listed in Pennsylvania. It paid off. Ghanbari is also a Navy ensign and he was able to arrange a military funeral for Ray at Arlington National Cemetery.
Yesterday, 22 January, Ray Vivier was reunited with his family and laid to rest in that garden of stone. A Marine Honor Guard fired three rounds, a bugler played taps.
“They know of his heroism now – but they don’t know much about the man he was trying to become. They remember their dad’s struggles with alcohol and other troubles.”
“What I’m trying to get out of this is to have one good, concrete memory that I can have of him for what he did to save those people,” said his oldest daughter, Elisha Vivier. “I’m proud of the man that he was becoming.” “
I enjoy Arlington. Not in a weird gloomy manner, or in a touristy fashion, but I enjoy it for what I learn from it each time I am there. The backside, Fort Myers, is seldom seen by civilians. Not many get to walk on the cobblestone paths and see the mounts being readied. They don’t see the tack being scrupulously cleaned and the brass intricately polished. They aren’t aware that not far from a stall dedicated to Black Jack, men and women, some missing limbs from wars current or past, get therapeutic lessons atop the same horses that pull the caisson. They don’t know the personal stories that lie beneath each white stone, and all of us will never really know many of them. Maybe that’s because if we knew them all we would lose the value that each one has. What is uncommon might become common place and taken for granted. Fortunately, for the Vivier family, they no longer have to wonder about the welfare of their father. Fortunately for them someone did what was uncommon.
When I pick up my daughter from school each day, I chat a little with some of the neighborhood moms. I’m not a very conversational person by nature, so I politely listen and observe. Their kids lives are so full I wonder how they do it – and why? I listen to them subtly trying to best the other with what their child is involved in, many of them living vicariously through their sons and daughters. And next week, when I pick up mine, I hope to begin to impart to her only one constant lesson, to not be quick in judging the man on the corner with the cardboard sign. We do not know his past and we certainly do not know what his full potential may turn out to be. It just might be that he saves someone’s life sometime. The next time I’m at Arlington, or Emmitsburg, I hope I remember Ray Vivier, a common man with uncommon valor.
“He was trying to get himself out of some struggles – some struggles with alcohol – and just do better for himself, and he was, which was fantastic,”