Manteca remembered the sacrifice of Sgt. Hope McFall and Corporal Earl Woodward.
The two Manteca residents in their mid-20s served in the same unit and died on the same day in France 41 days before Armistice Day that ended World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month a century ago. They were the only two Manteca men to fall in the war that was supposed to end all wars.
Nor have they forgotten Manteca’s fallen in wars since then or the thousands upon thousands of men and women from Manteca who have served their country in times of war and peace. Nor have they forgotten the 57 million of their countrymen who have done the same that “shot that was heard around the world” was fired before dawn on July 29, 1775 in Lexington, Mass., that ultimately led to the securing of American freedoms.
They gathered Monday on Veterans’ Day as the Manteca Mural Society dedicated six bronze service emblems mounted on the eastward facing wall of the Manteca Bedquarters where the five murals of the Manteca Veterans Wall depicting World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and The Global War on Terror are mounted. It was a $135,000 work of love and respect from the community to Manteca’s veterans.
The bustling traffic passing through the heart of Manteca — the intersection of Yosemite Avenue and Main Street — did not take away from the solemn occasion.
That’s because that noise and the freedom enjoyed by those passing by were secured by veterans over the past 242 years. It is why Manteca didn’t stick its marquee thank-you to veterans in some corner of the community. Instead the nearly two-story murals are front and center as a part of the daily fabric of Manteca.
It is also a fitting spot for two other reasons. During America’s darkest moment in World War II, the community erected a giant billboard on the same wall to list those who had gone off to war. By the time the war ended 985 names graced the wall.
It is also a spot in Manteca that every soldier from this community who had either fallen in war, served in combat or wore the uniform of one of the six branches of service depicted in the bronze emblems dedicated Monday — Merchant Marines, Coast Guard, Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marines — passed by often while growing up and/or living in Manteca.
“I hope and pray veterans will find this place (the murals) as a healing place,” Manteca Mural Society President Charleen Carroll whose brother Brock Elliot’s name is among the 18 fallen from Manteca inscribed on the Vietnam mural.
It is Carroll’s hope that future generations will see the murals and “reflect and contemplate on the significance of war.”
Serving as the keynote speaker was Norm Knodt. He served in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1969 as a helicopter pilot. Seared into his memory was how he and his fellow soldiers were greeted as they returned stateside via San Francisco International Airport in December of 1969. Protestors waited for their arrival chanting “baby killers.”
It stunned Knodt and others who had risked their lives serving America. But they chose to keep things in perspective.
“I served to protect their right to call me a baby killer,” Knodt said.
Knodt went on after a 3 ½ year stint in the Army to serve 10 years in active reserve and then 20 years in the private sector as a commercial shuttle pilot in New York City and eventually flying helicopters to deliver and install oil rigs in remote locations across the world such as New Guinea.
“The military allowed me to have a good life,” Knodt said.
He spoke of another young man — a 1994 East Union High graduate — that had a dream to become an airline pilot. But after finishing flight training at a Tulsa school at age 19, he had a four-year wait before he could test to be an airline pilot. He decided to fill the gap by joining the Army that zeroed in on his strong skills as a high school musician. He ended up playing for the Army Band in Japan. Though he loved the assignment, he yearned to fly. He ended up in flight school and became a Blackhawk pilot serving with the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was then station in Germany where part of his assignment was to fly Army Rangers on missions. Eventually he ended up flying business jets for the Army.
Not only did the Army wipe out his student debt but they paid for him to obtain additional college credit while serving. On top of that he picked up credits for some of the training he did in the Army. And now that he is out, he is using the Post 9-11 GI Bill to complete his college degree.
Along the way in flight school one of his classmates was Anne McClain, who is now a lieutenant colonel in the Army that is scheduled to blast off Dec. 3 as part of a crew on a Russian rocket headed to the space station.
That temporary gig in the Army turned into a career for the East Union High graduate.
“I know a lot about that young man,” Knodt told the 200 plus people gathered in the Manteca Bedquarters parking lot Monday, “because he is my son (Derek).”
Knodt didn’t share the story to brag about his son during a Veterans’ Day event.
Instead it was to underscore the positives that can come out of joining the military that goes way beyond the sacred task of protecting America and securing her freedoms.
“There’s a lot of technological instruction and opportunities,” Knodt said.
He added that much has been made about playing sports developing teamwork. The military, Knodt said, does that while taking it to the next level.
“You learn team work, respect, dedication and pulling your own weight,” Knodt told the gathering.
Knodt served as the Manteca Mural Society president when the mural project was first conceived. He was the leader of the non-profit when the first of five murals — “Eagle Heart” honoring those who served in the Global War on Terror created by Manteca artist Jessie Marinas — was dedicated on Veterans’ Day on Nov. 11, 2013.
Among the notable
takeaways from Monday’s ceremony:
*Two members of the newly formed Veterans of Foreign War Post 6311 Auxiliary — Kitty Walker and Tommi Benavides — served as the flag bearers for the color guard.
*Malachi Johnannsen, 11, received a standing ovation after he played several selections on his bagpipes.
*The mural society — in working with the City of Manteca — timed the completion of the Veterans Murals to make sure the fifth and final mural depicting World War I was completed and dedicated this year when Manteca marked its centennial as an incorporated city and the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I was marked.
*The murals are mounted on frames to allow them to be relocated in the event a building is ever constructed on the Manteca Bedquarters parking lot.
*The Flags Over Manteca truck trailer that holds 2,400 flags that are placed along main streets in Manteca on holidays such as Veterans’ Day provided the backdrop for those gathered for Monday’s ceremony. The project was launched on the first anniversary following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on America.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org