They arrived at Yosemite and Main before dawn’s early light.
Dozens waited in line. They were on a mission. They wanted to make sure nobody forgets the price America pays to be free. That didn’t want people to forget the horror of Sept. 11, 2001. They wanted to show their appreciation for those who have served. And they wanted to support those now in harm’s way serving America.
They were all united in purpose to place 2,400 flags along Manteca’s streets Monday. The Manteca Chamber of Commerce project was born in the hell of 9-11 but it was also designed to acknowledge the 850,000 who have died in all of America’s wars, the millions more who served, the civilians who made a difference for all of us such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and those who have built this country.
“I was thinking of the Twin Towers and my son in Afghanistan,” said Les Thomas.
Thomas has coordinated the flag distribution and collection without missing a day during the past 10 years.
His son Bryan is serving with Army artillery in the Global War on Terror. Thomas served in the Korean War.
Thomas also appreciates the camaraderie from the volunteers who turn out eight times a year on such occasions as Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Presidents Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Martin Luther King Day, and Memorial Day to place the flags along city streets.
The flags lining the streets stir thoughts in many people.
Among them is Joe Pellegrino.
“I see the flags and all sorts of thoughts come back,” Pellegrino said. “The Vietnam War, 9-11, and those who paid the ultimate price for our country.
Pellegrino served two tours in Vietnam. His military career also included an assignment with the Strategic Air Command. Pellegrino traveled with Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter as well as the Secretary of Defense and others. He was one of the officers assigned to be cuffed to a briefcase carrying the nuclear launch codes.
Pellegrino, after retirement, served as executive director for the Manteca Chamber of Commerce. He was mulling over the flag project when 9-11 happened.
Once the chamber board blessed it, it took just two months to raise the $60,000 to buy the flags and poles. The city kicked in $40,000 to bore the holes in sidewalks for the placement of the 2,400 flags. Individuals John Perez and Dan Luna stepped up to prepare the poles while Mountain Valley Express donated a trailer for storage.
Pellegrino - a San Francisco 49er faithful - was at the game Sunday.
He said he was moved by the people waving small flags, the flyover and people chanting “USA” for minutes on end at the ball game.
“We should never forget why (we have) America,” Pellegrino said.
Current chamber leader Debby Moorhead said the number of volunteers was almost a record high as people wanted to do their part to help remember 9-l1.
“It gives me goose bumps to drive around town and not only see the (chamber) flags buy all of the flags people have in their yards,” Moorhead said.
The next flag day is on Nov. 11 to mark Veterans Day.
Pellegrino noted the original goal was to have 3,000 flags to represent those who died on Sept. 11. They ended up with 2,400 that reflect the loss at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The chamber has been slowly adding to the original 2,400 through donations.
If you are interested in helping either replace flags or to have a flag purchased in memorial or just to add to the number, contact the chamber at 823-6121.