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We can make up for a lifetime of indifference

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POSTED March 7, 2010 2:34 a.m.
Phil Waterford couldn’t sleep.

He had been asked by Pastor Mike Dillman of The Place of Refuge last year to serve as the master of ceremonies at the Memorial Day Weekend observance at Woodward Park.

It also involved attending a sit down dinner with Congressional Medal of Honor recipients and other veterans the day before at Prestige Senior Living. Among those that the owner of Manteca Ford Mercury broke bread with that day was one of the surviving Navajo code talkers who played a critical role in World War II as well as Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis who attended Manteca High for three years. Several survivors of the Battle of the Bulge – the bloodiest battle in World War II – were also present.

Also on hand were several Vietnam veterans including Bob Gutierrez, Manteca resident Chris Braley who lost an eye and sustained head injuries in Iraq, and the parents of Manteca High graduate Charles Palmer who gave his life serving America in the Global War on Terror.
Waterford called Dillman early on the morning of the May 24 event. It awoke Dillman from a late spring slumber. Waterford said he wanted to talk. Dillman obliged waiting for Waterford to say more but then he asked if he could meet him at Woodward Park where the stage and other apparatus were in place for that day’s ceremonies. When Dillman arrived he found Waterford waiting.

What was about to unfold surprised Dillman.

Waterford said he was extremely moved by the men and their stories the day prior at the Prestige Senior Living dinner. Up until that dinner he never really had given much thought to the price of freedom or the blood that has been spilled to protect America.

Waterford told Dillman that Memorial Day to him has meant simply a three-day weekend off from work and a chance to hitch up the boat, gather up the family and head out to the lake.

He told Dillman he was going to “make up for a lifetime of indifference” when it came to honoring those who had served his country.

He then said he was going to give a new Ford Fusion to Manteca native and Vietnam War veteran Bob Gutierrez so he could make it back to Texas as his current car was on its last legs. He was also going to provide monetary gifts to several veterans as well as to several of the families that had lost so much.

Dillman, knowing how hard auto dealerships were being hit and how they were struggling to stay in business and keep people employed, told Waterford to think about it a bit more as he really didn’t have to do what he was suggesting. He also emphasized that wasn’t the reason he’d asked Waterford – who has a track record of using his dealership to host free meals for the needy and to raise funds for the less fortunate – to serve as master of ceremonies.

Waterford looked at Dillman squarely in the eyes and said he wasn’t asking him for permission to make the gifts.  Instead, he was letting him know that he was going to do it and if it was appropriate to do so that afternoon.

This Memorial Day Weekend on May 29-31 plan to stay home in Manteca. You will have the opportunity to meet some true heroes as well as to acknowledge those who have died so we can enjoy three-day weekends with our families at the lake.

You will be graced by the presence of  Sally Monsoor whose son Michael made the ultimate unselfish sacrifice serving  in Afghanistan by deliberately throwing himself on a grenade thus saving the lives of six of his fellow Navy Seals. For his valor above and beyond the call of duty Monsoor was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor posthumously.

You’ll be able to meet Derek McInnis. He’ll inspire you when he competes in a 5K run that morning and then later when he shares the podium during ceremonies at Woodward Park. McInnis is the author of “Exit Wounds”. He served proudly in Iraq but returned home minus a leg.

The site of 5,800 crosses at Woodward Park where kids play soccer on weekends will make you understand the cost of freedom. The crosses will represent the 5,800 who have given their lives so far in the Global War on Terror.

And that Monday – on Memorial Day itself – you can stand along Yosemite Avenue in downtown and say thanks to the men and women who have served America that will participate in Manteca’s first ever Memorial Day parade.

You will begin to understand what each and every one of the 2,400 flags that will line Manteca’s streets that weekend means to the men and women who have served America.

Rest assured, Memorial Day will never ever again be just another holiday.

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