LATHROP – John Serpa has served his country.
He fought with the First Marines at Guadalcanal. He was wounded – and received a Purple Heart – at The Battle of Okinawa.
But the World War II Marine Corps veteran played another role when he finished his military service.
He helped lay the groundwork for what is now modern day Lathrop – from the alignment of the I-5 corridor to the early stages of what would become the incorporation of a city.
And last week the City of Lathrop and a handful of regional politicians including Congressmen Jerry McNerney and Dennis Cardoza (represented by stand-ins), Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (himself) and Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani (stand-in) presented Serpa with proclamations for his service and his dedication to bettering his community and his county. The City of Lathrop also presented him with a framed commendation.
A former Tracy police officer that served under Serpa during tenure in the department – he retired as a captain – and later went on to become a judge was also there to celebrate his achievements.
The combination service to both his country and his community is something that Mayor Joseph “Chaka” Santos – who himself served in the Marine Corps – appreciates and admires.
“I think that he’s the standard to what Americans should aspire to become,” Santos said. “He’s a true patriot for the service that he’s given to his country, and he has done so much for this community.
“He doesn’t accept any reciprocation for the things that he’s done – he’s just a very humble man with a very good soul. And he changed my life with his insight just through the talks that we had. He says that all good things come in time.”
In the eyes of Bennie Gatto – a longtime Lathrop resident himself who played a key role in the formation of Lathrop as a city – Serpa was crucial in keeping the community together during its early years.
With a small population and only a handful of businesses including his Arco station on Louise Avenue, Gatto said that Serpa would always support the activities and functions in town that fostered a sense of unity that helped in forging ahead with incorporation.
“He was always willing to help no matter what, and never expected anything in return. I really admire him for that,” said Gatto. “Having the kind of support that he gave us early on was very important because we were small – we only had about 5,000 people – and there weren’t very many places to turn to.
“It was crucial that we had people like John would come along and bolster our functions that we had going on at the time. He’s was and still is an asset to this community.”