John Alves is a neighbor.
And even though he may not think so, he is also a hero.
John, an Escalon High graduate, enlisted in the Army on June 3, 1969 as a 19-year-old. He served in Vietnam from 1969 through 1970. John rose to the rank of Sergeant before being discharged. He ended up making his home in Manteca in 1972.
John is not a person to brag. I can’t think of any veteran that has served in a war who is.
But to give you an idea about what many of the 45 million Americans who have served during wartime in the military from 1776 through today as to what they were up against, the following is an excerpt from the wording that went along with John receiving the Army Commendation Medal, First oak Leaf Cluster for heroism in connection with military operations against a hostile force in the Republic of Vietnam:
““Private First class Alves distinguished himself by valorous actions on 2 February 1970 while serving as a Rifleman with Company C, 3rd Battalion, 1st Infantry. On that date, the company was conducting a combat sweep west of Quant Ngami City when it was assaulted by a large North Vietnamese Army force. In the initial exchange of rounds the friendly unit’s Radio Telephone Operator was wounded and fell in a position exposed to further hostile fire. With complete disregard for his personal safety, Private Alves rushed through the intense enemy fire and carried the casualty and his equipment to safety. Through his timely actions, Private Alves was instrumental in saving the life of a fellow soldier and maintaining the company’s means of communication during the rest of the battle. Private First class Alves’ personal heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest tradition of the military service, and reflect great credit upon himself, the Americal Division, and the United States Army.”
There 17.5 million men and women alive today like John who donned a uniform and served America in times of war and peace.
We are forever indebted to the sacrifices they have made as freedom is not free.
As President Ronald Reagan noted; “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on them to do the same.”
Those now serving — and veterans who have served —have secured our freedoms.
Living in the now of tweeting and allied myopic forms of communication that too often shapes views without the context of the perspective of others and history, we easily forget that the American experiment of a republic form of government with strong democratic principles is a mere flickering flame against 20,000 years of civilization where man used force to make other men subservient because they differed from them in beliefs, skin tone, culture, ethnicity, and religion.
The American experiment was not made possible by someone allowing it to happen. It required those willing to secure it with their lives that gave birth to America 244 years ago and have kept the flame going despite the often hurricane force winds of tyranny and oppression that mightily try to snuff it out.
Today is Veterans Day. The COVID-19 pandemic has silenced traditional Veterans Day gatherings and remembrances. It should not, though, allow us to forget the price men and women — often complete strangers to us — have paid to secure our collective freedoms.
The blood spilled has been great. The loss of life on battlefields has been enormous.
Starting with Hope McFall who fell on a battlefield in Europe in World War and ending with Charles Palmer III who gave his life in Iraq fighting the Global War on Terror, 65 Manteca men have paid the ultimate price.
McFall died in France in World War I never having seen his son John McFall who went on to become not just a lawyer who served in World War II and as Manteca’s city attorney but to serve in Congress and to reach the upper echelon of House leadership as majority whip.
Americus Bettencourt and 37 other Manteca men — some barely 18 — spilled their blood after Pearl Harbor never to return home.
Brock Elliott just barely out of high school lost his life in the jungles of Vietnam never to cruise Yosemite Avenue again or to start his own family.
Palmer, driven by a sense of duty after serving a stint in the Marines and stepping away, rejoined only to fall in Iraq never to see his son graduate Manteca High or join the military.
Among those who returned include former Manteca High student and Buffalo football player Sammy Davis whose bravery went beyond the call of duty that a grateful nation to bestow upon him the country’s top military acknowledgement — the Congressional Medal of Honor.
While lives lost and the horrors of the battlefield should never forgotten, those who served in support or were vigilant in times of peace should not be forgotten either.
Soldiers, like John, when their service is over return home and do their part to build a stronger community.
In John’s case, he served his country as a correctional officer retiring as a lieutenant at Deuel Vocational Institute.
John also met the love of his life — Claudette. The two of them raised two sons and a daughter and are now doting grandparents.
John is a loving husband, father, and grandfather.
And — without a doubt — he is a hero.
Make time today to go out of your way and say “thanks” to men and women like John today.
That way you can honestly say you’ve thanked a true hero.
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email firstname.lastname@example.org