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Goose bumps still there after 10 years
First-time volunteer Michael Sellers helps put out flags with the rest of the group from St. Pauls United Methodist Church along Main Street during Flag Day on Thursday. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Joe Pellegrino was driving through downtown Manteca on Thursday and got goose bumps.

“It’s just like 10 years ago but even more so,” said  Pellegrino of the thrill of being able to drive past the 2,400 American flags that lined the streets for Flag Day. “Those flags represent everything that has gone on to get us where we are today. We cannot forget the past.”

It was a decade ago that Pellegrino, who was executive director of the Manteca Chamber of Commerce, sold his bosses on the non-profit business organization’s board to  launch Flags over Manteca.

Pellegrino came up with the idea several months after the devastating terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. People in the community were looking for ways to express their faith and pride in America.

At first, there were more than a few that were skeptic. The chamber had to raise $70,000. They had to arrange with the city to drill 2,400 holes in concrete to support flagpoles. Then they had to put the flag poles together, varnish them, embroider them, and attach the flags to the poles plus find a place to store them.

The goal was to have them in place by the first anniversary of Sept. 11 which eventually has become known as Patriots Day.

 Doubters quickly went to the wayside. The chamber raised the $70,000 in less than seven weeks.

“Once it started we’d have people coming in non-stop making donations to buy flags,” Pellegrino recalled.

This is the 10th year anniversary of Flags over Manteca. Over 100 people get up by dawn’s early light eight days a year - Presidents Day, Veterans Day, Armed Services Day, Martin Luther King Day, Presidents Day, Flag Day, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Patriots Day - to place the flags. They have gone up on other occasions as well such as Pearl Harbor Day, on joyous occasions when National Guard battalions have returned home from war and paraded down Manteca streets to somber ones such as when fallen Manteca Marine Lance Cpl. Charles Palmer II returned home to his final resting place.

The Manteca Chamber of Commerce is acknowledging Flags over Manteca - the organization’s marquee community service project - during tonight’s installation and awards dinner at Chez Shari.

Pellegrino will be honored as well as others who made the project possible. The honorees include Mountain Valley Express that donated a truck trailer for the flags, Monogram Magic that embroidered the flags, Perez & Sons Cabinets that stepped up to make the flag poles, and Luna Painting that varnished them.

Receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award tonight is Les Thomas.

Thomas - like many others - has never missed a day of putting out and retrieving the flags. Thomas has gone a step further. He stepped up and coordinated the distribution and collection of the 2,400 flags from the very start.

The next flag event is on the Fourth of July. If you’d like to volunteer to help contact the Manteca Chamber of Commerce at 823-6121.