“The freedom we enjoy is not free,” Lathrop Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal told the crowd gathered in front of the Veterans Memorial for Monday’s Memorial Day observance.
He reiterated the message heard all over the United States that day and throughout the Memorial Day weekend, giving thanks to all veterans for the sacrifices they made which made it possible for everyone to enjoy the land of the free, and the home of the brave in a manner unheard of in other countries all over the world.
U.S. Army veteran John Lira, Jr. of Turlock, who delivered the keynote address, drove the mayor’s message home further, saying, “We must not forget all their sacrifices.”
Lira came to America from Portugal with his family when he was six years old. He was 18 years old and living in the family’s Rio Vista dairy when he joined the Army. He was later sent to serve in Korea where, for the first time in his life, suffered oppressive cold.
It was a large audience that gathered in front of the Veterans Memorial at Valverde Community Park on Fifth Street. Families, young and old, including several spanning three generations, as well as city officials and guests, were joined by a large contingency of Lathrop High School students. Both the Lathrop High School choirs led by choir director Elizabeth Van Eerde, and the Lathrop High bands directed by Desiree Bugarin, were there to add a musical mood with patriotic medleys. The choirs led a heart-stopping rendition of the Star-spangled Banner under the direction of Van Eerde.
The most solemn moment of the 11 a.m. program was the traditional Call of Roll & Tolling of Bell conducted by Memorial Day Committee members Harry Randhawa and Melissa MacNeilage. Randhawa read the names of the veterans – from World War I to the War on Terror – whose names are etched on the memorial wall. After each reading of the name, MacNeilage answered, “No answer,” and then tolled the bell.
The traditional highlight of the Memorial Day observance, which is the placing of the wreath in front of the memorial wall, was done by Mayor Dhaliwal and Aaron Bazon, United Commander of the Stockton Young Marines.
Posting the colors at the beginning of the program were Lathrop High School JROTC cadets John Abopo, Evelyn Alcauter, Wesley Yang, and Conner Edward. With the cadets was JROTC staff Sgt. 1st Class (ret.) Brian Williams.
Eagle Scout Brendon Curtright of Troop No. 422 led the Pledge of Allegiance. Members of Boy Scout Troop 425 took part in the program by conducting a “retiring of the flag” ceremony. The concluding Taps was played by Lathrop High Band member Chucky Garcia.
Invocation was led by Pastor Gerald Williams of Faith Fellowship Christian Center, and benediction at the end of the ceremony was led by Pastor Ed Kok of United Lutheran Church in Manteca. Introducing the guest speaker was Memorial Day Committee chairwoman Arnita Montiel.
Refreshments following the program were provided by the Lathrop Lions Club.
These are the names of Lathrop’s war heroes whose names are etched on the Memorial Wall:
• World War I – Pvt James Joseph Chio, U.S. Army
• World War II – Cpl George R. Calloway, U.S. Marine Corps; Staff Sgt Donald V. Rieger, US Army Air Corps
• Korean War – TSgt Roscoe Carnes, Jr., U.S. Marine Corps; Cpl Alvin R. Mendes, U.S. Army
• Vietnam War – BM3 Charles M. White, Sr., U.S. Navy; LCpl Brock D. Elliott, U.S. Marine Corps; WO Gale Butches, Jr., U.S. Army; PFC Joseph Tafoya, U.S. Army
• Iraqi Freedom War – 1st Lt. Michael W. Vega, U.S. Army National Guard; CWO David Angelo F. Alvarez, U.S. Army
Monday was the seventh annual Memorial Day observance at the Lathrop Veterans Memorial Wall.