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Honoring War on Terrors Gold Star Families sacrifice
Gold Star family members Julia Conover, right, and Diana Layfield find Julia’s son Marine Cpl Brandon C. Dewey’s name on the traveling tribute to those who have died serving America in the War on Terror. - photo by HIME ROMERO
When Frank Aquila first decided that he was going to host a dinner honoring families that have lost loved ones at war he didn’t quite know what to expect.

But on Friday night he got a room full of people there to honor and pay respect to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom – a sold-out event that drew people from throughout Northern California that came for a myriad of reasons.

“You just feel for these families that have such a void left in their heart and you want them to know that they’ll never be left out and they’ll never be forgotten,” Aquila said. “If putting on something like this fills that void in any way, then it was well worth it.”

It took Aquila – who chairs the South San Joaquin Republicans – nearly two years to put together the dinner that would eventually pay tribute to 15 families and he tackled the majority of the legwork himself.

Wanting to make the event a focus on the remembrance of the fallen and not a political event, Aquila says that he decided to wait until after November’s presidential election so that the true meaning of what the event was supposed to convey.

“I’m humbled that I’m able to see such an event that brings about grief that is tempered with honor,” First Assembly Pastor Mike Dillman said. “I think that’s something holy.

“And being a man of the cloth, for me to say that something is holy means that it holds a very special place in my heart like this event does.”

According to Aquila the 120 tickets that were available for the dinner sold out – with any money left after expenses going towards any one of a number of charities benefitting military personnel and those currently involved in overseas operations.
While the eloquence and the honor of a dinner will never bring his son back, Mike Anderson was pleased with the turnout and the lengths that people went to in order to ensure that those lost will always be more than just a name.

“It’s powerful to see the community together for something like this – undivided and willing to pay tribute to our fallen,” said Anderson – who has become an advocate for Gold Star Families and continues to work almost daily on projects to benefit the families of fallen heroes. “It’s really a chance for people to share in our loss – they go home and live their lives and we have to wake up with this tomorrow morning and every day after that.

“Making sure those people aren’t forgotten is what’s pivotal.”

And it was an emotional day for Scott Conover of Tracy who would have been celebrating the 24th birthday of his son Brandon Dewey if he weren’t killed in action with his Marine unit in Iraq.

“Days like this help us for sure – showing us that people out there still care and still remember Brandon and are thankful for what he did for his country,” Conover said. “It’s a tough day for us, but it definitely helps to know that there are people out there are concerned and do care and don’t want to let those memories die.”