LATHROP — It was an emotional “change of shift” ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon with the raising of three flags in front of the “all-American” CBC Steel Buildings firm on Louise Avenue.
Gold Star parents from two separate families laid a golden wreath on the Gold Star memorial that honors the lives of service men and women who have given their lives in defense of their country in the post 9/11 era – the longest war in the country’s history.
Lee Snyder and Kevin Graves stood together next to the flag pole after laying the wreath as a Navy bugler played taps for the loss of their sons, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant David Senft who had served with an airborne unit and died on November 15, 2010; and Joseph A. Graves, a U.S. Army specialist who was killed in action July 25, 2006.
U.S. Army Major General, ret., Rodger Brautigan, was in civilian clothes in the audience, made a point at the end of the ceremony to offer his condolences to the parents.
Kevin Graves told the audience that his son had been impacted by the attack on the Twin Towers’ in 2001 and told his dad then that he wanted to do his part to protect his country’s borders, but he was too young to join the military. At 17 he asked his father to sign the papers to allow him to go into the Army and he was on his way.
“He served as an MP in his first tour of duty in Korea and then came home.” Graves said. “We had a wonderful time together for a month and then he went off to train and to go to war. In California alone, the last count I had was 722 who we have lost in combat. That is by far the largest loss for any state in the United States, post 9/11”.
Graves recalled that when he was asked by CBC president Steve Campbell to say a few words, he went to the firm’s website to learn more about the company.
“You guys are American,” Graves said. “Everything you do is made right here. You make the most of the freedoms we have here and you know what our kids sacrifice their lives for every day. What you are doing here at CBC and at Nucor (steel manufacturer) is to bring awareness to the City of Lathrop and to the people who drive down this street that we still have active military fighting a war.
“It’s an awesome thing you are doing here and it is an awesome tribute. I love what it says on the banner: ‘In honor of those who gave and in memory of those who gave all.’ Really that’s what it is all about,” the Gold Star dad emotionally concluded.
It was an emotional moment too for Gold Star Mother Lee Snyder with her message to the audience read by CBC president Steve Campbell:
“I just happened to be driving by and saw what you were doing. I work close but I don’t live here. I just, for some reason, went this route today, and saw the memorial and now I will be able to drive by every single day, if I want to, and remember my son.”
Campbell said the memorial started with a planned upgrading of their old existing signage. They formed a team of Dave McKay, Robert Desanto and sales manager Ron Munoz.
“We thought honoring the military further would be absolutely perfect – and that’s what we decided to do,” Campbell said. “The three of them got together and made the design and went through the process of getting the permit and starting the process.
Campbell noted that two of the men drew company assignments that took them out of town and the project fell completely on the leadership shoulders of Ron Munoz. He said Munoz had a little help from his teammates and a few other guys along with a retired employee.
“The physical part of this project is all credited to Ron Munoz and his wife Joann who planted the flowers,” Campbell said.
The company president said he has been asked many times over why the firm decided to erect a memorial to honor military service.
His answer was concise:
“We all believe in the freedom that we have. We are all Americans here and we realize that freedom isn’t actually free, that we are truly beholding and very, very thankful to our veterans and to our current military service personnel throughout the world,” Campbell told the group.
He added, that in reality, “We are all tied together.”
Some of us were born here, he said. Some of us became citizens through the naturalization process and many others are working on that process to become U.S. Citizens.
Looking out at his some 130 employees in the audience, he added that he recognized that they are all Americans because they, like him and his family, cherish the freedoms of America as it is presented throughout the world.
Campbell said his employees at the Lathrop facility have come from 11 different countries with people from all over the world working at CBC Steel Buildings.
“We all work together for the benefit of everybody at CBC – and that (ethic) is what represents America throughout the entire world. We share our failures together and we succeed together. Even though it has been a very difficult economy, collectively as a group, we have had a great success and one of our best years in our history, simply because we work together to take care of our customers and to take care of each other,” he concluded.
Also present at the ceremonies were Lathrop Mayor Chaka Santos, a U.S. Marine veteran; Hamilton Lott, executive VP of Nucor Corporation and a U.S. Navy veteran; Bennie Gatto, commander of the American Disabled Veterans Association and Lanny Bauer, service officer for the Disabled Veterans Association, a retired master sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps.