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Manteca shows its thanks for a wounded warrior

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Manteca shows its thanks for a wounded warrior

Chuck Palmer, left, walks with Marine Lance Cp. Ronnie Porta through a flag lined corridor of fellow Marines, veterans, and others on hand to greet Porta on Saturday at Stockton Metro Airport.

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POSTED January 14, 2012 10:11 p.m.

They waited patiently on a clear Manteca Saturday afternoon.

Shopping could wait. The 49er playoff game could wait.

Some were clutching American flags. Others held signs.

Their numbers were in the hundreds,

They were there along the flag-lined streets of Main and Yosemite for one thing and one thing only - to say thanks to a young man who paid the price for their collective freedoms.

He was not someone they knew. He was not a Manteca, Ripon, or Lathrop resident. He was a stranger. But that did not matter for they were respecting not just a man who served his country but every man and woman who had ever donned an American military uniform.

Marine Lance Cpl. Ronnie Porta wasn't a stranger to the more than 300 veterans who had greeted him earlier Saturday at Stockton Metro Airport along with easily 100 others including Boy Scouts and JROTC cadets. He was a fellow soldier. From the Patriot Riders who would join Porta's motorcade procession astride their motorcycles to the Ripon Veterans of Foreign Wars Hall for ceremonies and Korean, Vietnam, and the Gulf War to Porta's fellow Marines assigned to the Sharpe Depot.

Ninety minutes prior to the salutes, waving, and shouts of "thank-you" as Porta was driven down Manteca streets, he had arrived on a private jet from San Antonio, Texas.

His journey to Manteca had actually started on May 5, 2007. He was on patrol at the wheel of a Humvee in Iraq accompanied by Marine Master Sgt. Kenneth Mack and Marine Lance Corporal Charles Palmer when the vehicle struck an improvised explosive device. Marines at the scene trying to save their fellow soldiers were beaten back by intense flames and could not get closer than within 20 feet of the burning Humvee. Then from the fiery inferno walked Porta. Palmer and Mack died in the explosion.

Palmer's father - Chuck and wife Teri - had been trying to make contact with the man who served with their son. They wanted to show their appreciation for Porta having served and to meet the man who was with their son when he died serving America.

They knew he was burned but had no idea of just how intense his injuries were. Then a few months ago, other Marines networking through Facebook put Porta and the Palmers in touch with each other.

Palmer found out that Porta was severely burned over 90 percent of his body and ended up spending the last of months in the hospital and has undergone 130 surgeries.

Both Porta and Palmer wanted to meet.

A private jet was made available and arrangements were made for a two-day visit in Manteca.

That would have been the end of the story but Palmer had other plans.

He wanted Porta to know that not just his fellow Marines but that complete strangers were appreciative of his service ensuring their liberties and protecting their freedoms.

In less than 10 days, the community came together.

The emotional embrace between a wounded warrior who has gone through an intense hell and the man who lost his son in war took place on the tarmac of Atlantic Aviation before more than 400 people, shortly before noon Saturday.

They then made their way through a line of American flags lined by saluting Patriot Riders beside their motorcycles, Marine combat veterans, reserve Marines and others for a private exchange inside the hanger.

"It's a tear jerker," noted Marine veteran Dan Luna after Porta and others passed.

His sentiment was shared by others.

"I just wanted to make sure the Marine knew that people appreciate what he's been though," said one woman who was among those patiently waiting along Main Street Saturday. "It's the least we can do."

 

 

To contact Dennis Wyatt, e-mail dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com

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