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Joshua Cowell recognizes 1st responders
Manteca City Fire Captain David Breitenbucher is greeted by a student during the Patriot Day event Thursday at Joshua Cowell School. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Two words are transformed into action every year on September 11 at Joshua Cowell Elementary School: service and remembrance.

Students and staff, along with parents and community members, made that happen again Thursday as they paused to honor the memory of the brave men and women who gave and risked their lives that day 13 years ago to rescue the victims of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers in New York, in Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, to pay tribute to the men and women in uniform who gave their all in the War on Terror and those who continue to serve their country courageously, and to remember the thousands of innocent men, women and children who perished in the worst attack on American soil. 

On this third annual Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance, Joshua Cowell honored all first responders who were represented by about a dozen Manteca Police officers, city fire personnel, plus a Stockton police officer, and an Iraq war veteran whose daughter is a student at the school.

“These men and women protect our community all the time. They risk their lives every day,” said Chuck Palmer whose son, Marine Cpl. Charles O. Palmer Jr., 36, paid the ultimate sacrifice when he was killed in action on May 5, 2007 while conducting combat operations in the Anbar province of Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Palmer and his wife Teri were among the guests at the annual assembly held in the area of the campus courtyard aptly called Peace Garden. As they have done in the last three years, and at the invitation of the school, the Palmers were there to collect items brought by the students for the Treats for Troops project they started six years ago in memory of their son. All of the items were later packed in boxes following the ceremony by a group of older students and Treats for Troops community volunteers that included members of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary Post 1051. Donations collected last year made it possible for Treats for Troops to send 67 care packages, each containing a letter from the Joshua Cowell students, to American soldiers serving overseas.

Among those who helped gather the donated items was PFC Nicholas Brown, also a guest at the assembly and the nephew of Joshua Cowell teacher Mary Brown, who is being deployed overseas this weekend.

Joshua Cowell School Principal Bonnie Bennett announced that the students have also written letters to soldiers overseas, as they likewise do every year during this occasion. Taking charge of the mailing of these letters is Place of Refuge Pastor Mike Dillman, the man behind the annual Not Forgotten Memorial celebration at Woodward Park and who has been a guest every year at the school Patriot Day event.

What Joshua Cowell has been doing the past three years has not escaped the attention of the leaders at City Hall in Manteca.

“What you’ve accomplished here is refreshing,” Manteca Mayor Pro Tem Steve DeBrum said before he presented a Certificate of Recognition from the City Council to the school on behalf of Mayor Willie Weatherford.

In the spirit of the Patriot Day and National Day of Service and Remembrance presidential proclamation of 2012, Thursday’s program also highlighted the brief life of one of its outstanding students, Russell Marvin Bledsoe, Jr., by dedicating a bench placed in the Peace Garden in his memory. Young Russell died in March of this year. Bennett told everyone to remember his message when they sit on the bench: “Be kind to one another.”

“Remember him by acting on his message,” she said.

As part of the dedication, the young student’s father, Dr. Marvin Bledsoe, a Manteca dentist, presented a scholarship donation to the school in memory of his son. The scholarship will go to six graduating students at Manteca High School, each receiving $300, who are heading to college and who have attended Joshua Cowell, one of the high school’s feeder schools.

The Patriot Day program concluded with everyone – students, staff, and guests – gathering at the field behind the school and forming the letters USA for an aerial picture taking. The collector fire truck used to take the bird’s-eye-view group shot was courtesy of Mark Hathaway, fire engineer for the City of San Jose.