School principals. Police chiefs. Pastors. Electricians. Contractors. Teachers. Mechanics. Civil engineers. Truck drivers. Most were retired, some were not.
Among them were Army, Marines, and Air Force, Navy, and Coast Guard veterans.
“Veterans never stop serving,” pointed out Deputy Secretary of the California Veterans Affairs J.P. Tremblay to the gathering of more than 1,000 people on Wednesday.
Tremblay was the keynote speaker for the grand opening of the Moffat Community Center that’s the new home of Jimmie Connors Post 6311 Veterans Center. The ceremonies also marked Veterans Day.
The message he delivered resonated with the crowd. It wasn’t necessarily elegant, but it spoke the truth: Veterans never stop serving.
The crowd was impressive. Not because it was a Who’s Who of Manteca community leaders and regional politics. Those folks were there. But because it was full of the people whose sweat and tears built Manteca and this country to the point it is at today. And they did so after putting their lives at risk for their country and to secure the freedom for themselves and the 92.7 percent of the nation’s population that has never served in the military. More than a few of them spilled their blood doing so. Then there were their fellow soldiers who gave their all.
No one was surprised when Tremblay rattled off statistics including the fact 70 percent of all veterans vote — an unusually large number for any group.
“They know the price that is paid (to secure the right to vote).” Tremblay said.
The other statistics he offered probably would surprise many who treated Veterans Day as either just another day or a day off from work.
uThere are 20 million veterans including 2 million in California.
uThere are 1.7 million veterans under 35 years of age and 9.4 million over 65.
uThe average median annual income in this country of a veteran is $36,927 compared to the overall national median of $26,000.
uNon-veterans are more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Tremblay emphasized veterans make hard workers, successful business leaders, strong community leaders, and excellent entrepreneurs. He noted the statistics proof it.
Even so, one of the largest groups of unemployed is young veterans. At the same time he said veterans account for too many among the ranks of the homeless.
“Veterans don’t need a hand-out,” Tremblay said. “Veterans don’t need charity. What veterans need is a chance to work. They need an opportunity to (catch up) with those who stayed behind while they went to serve in the military.”
Tremblay echoed a message delivered earlier by Congressman Jeff Denham, a lifetime Veteran of Foreign Wars member and Desert Storm veteran.
“If you want to honor a veteran, then hire a veteran,” Denham said, igniting one of the day’s strongest applauses.
It was fitting that Tremblay and Denham were emphasizing helping all veterans.
That was the vision of Post Commander Carlon Perry and his fellow Jimmie Connors Post 6311 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars several years ago when they first started pursuing their first permanent home for the Post 6311 that was chartered on March 3, 1946. The idea is for the $1.3 million City of Manteca Moffat Community Center — born over coffee at The Waffle Shop between Perry and fellow veteran and fellow former mayor Willie Weatherford — is to be more than a gathering place for all veterans but a place they can go for fellowship and to seek help. Perry and the post also want to make it a true community center with things such as art shows and other events embracing the entire Manteca community.
As Perry noted last week, making it a true community gathering point underscores exactly what veterans served — to make sure their fellow citizens could enjoy being free.
The day also marked the official dedication of the Alvin R. Mendes Plaza on the street side of the building where bricks purchased by community members offer thanks to various veterans. Mendes was killed in action on Heartbreak Ridge, Jull 487 in the Korean War. His remains and possessions were never returned home.
Sally Mendes, the fallen Army soldier’s younger sister, spoke on behalf of the family. She noted one cousin upon reading how the plaza was being dedicated to Mendes wrote her back saying, “I feel like he has finally come home.”
uPastor Mike Dillman got off one of the better zingers of the day when he alluded to problems with the sound system just before delivering the closing prayer: “In nearly 50 years serving as a pastor I’ve come to believe the demons reside in sound systems and under the hood of cars.”
uPost Commander Perry presented City Manager Karen McLaughlin with a check for $40 to cover the $1 rent the VFW owes the city for leasing the Moffat Community Center for the next 40 years.
uThe post presented the East Union High JROTC a check for $1,000 thanking them for their continued support of VFW activities.
uVeteran James Greer sang the national anthem. He will do an encore performance Sunday when he sings The Star Spangled Banner before the start of the Oakland Raiders game.