Sammy Davis walked the halls of Manteca High a generation before Charles Palmer III.
The two men never met.
Davis went on to serve America in the Vietnam War where his valor while facing death to save the lives of men in his Army unit eventually led to his receiving the Medal of Honor. Palmer enlisted in the Marines after graduating from high school and served from 1990 to 1994. Then 12 years later in 2006, Palmer re-enlisted after serving for five years in the reserves out of a “real sense of duty” to his country.
Palmer was deployed to Iraq and assigned to the 8th Communications Battalion in the Al Ambar province near Khalidiyah where he was killed.
On Memorial Day Monday, Davis stood before over 200 people gathered at the Big League Dreams sports complex to help dedicate the plaza in honor of Palmer and the sacrifice he made for his country.
Just as Davis was about to speak, a crack of the bat on the nearby replica Wrigley Field triggered yelling from kids participating in a baseball tournament.
“You hear kids having fun at play,” Davis said. “You hear children enjoying freedom. In my opinion that is worth giving my life for. That is what Charles Palmer gave his life for so our children can enjoy what we hear this morning.”
The Palmer family including his father Charles, mother Peggy Amick, step-mom Teri Palmer and the fallen Marine corporal’s 17-year-old son Charlie were on hand for the unveiling of the plaques made possible by donations from Brocchini Farms and P.L. Fry & Son.
“I stand here honored,” said his father Charles Palmer. “I have met so many here who called him a hero. I called him son. He’s my son but he’s still a hero.”
Palmer made it clear that while the plaque and plaza bear the name of Charles Palmer III, it just doesn’t represent his son.
“There are other heroes I don’t want to forget,” Palmer said. “Hope McFall who served in the Army in World War II, Kenneth Grisham who served in the Navy in World War II, Gordon Thomson who served in the Army in Korea, and Brock Elliott who served in the Marines in Vietnam.”
The four men where the first Manteca men to die in their respective wars.
“This plaza honors all of those who have died in war (from our community),” Palmer said. Sixty-five men have died in combat from Manteca, Lathrop and French Camp from World War 1 through the War on Terror.
The plaques – that are set on two stones on the base of three flag poles at the entrance of the Big League Dreams – note that it is the Charles Palmer III Plaza.
Manteca Parks and Recreation Department representative Bruce Mulder noted the site was suggested by Mayor Willie Weatherford who wanted something done in a timely manner. The city still plans to name a future park in Palmer’s honor.
In closing, Pastor Mike Dillman – a Vietnam veteran - reminded those attending to “remember that the cost of freedom is extravagant.”
Naming the plaza at the sports complex is also appropriate given that Palmer was not just a solid student at Manteca High but a solid athlete as well. He was a running back on Bob Lee’s football team at Manteca High and also participated in track. Palmer also joined the Buffaloes’ Power Lifting Club to build up his strength to be a better competitor.