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Manteca honors Americas heroes
15,000 expected Sunday at Woodward Park event
earl vet
Earl The Pearl Watson, right, autographs one of his books for a fellow veteran at a previous Not Forgotten commemoration in Manteca. - photo by HIME ROMERO

The Not Forgotten Commemoration at Woodward Park includes:
• 2:45 p.m. Arrival of Gold Star families
• 3 p.m. Dedication of the 11th panel of the fallen in The Global War on Terror
• 3:15 p.m. C-17 flyover
• 6 p.m. Official ceremony honoring those who have served
• 8 p.m. Air Force Pop/Rock band concert
• 9 p.m.  Aerial fireworks
* The day also includes a USO show, displays, car show, fun run, breakfast & more

Earl Watson is recognized as the last survivor of the 1,800-member strong Black regiment that fought valiantly in the Battle of the Bulge.

He followed his World War II heroics by landing a job after being discharged as a men’s room attendant at the famous Knickerbocker Hotel.

It was there that Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, and Gene Autry used the bathroom one day and happened to ask Watson if he served in the war. When they heard his story, they decided it wasn’t right that a war hero who served in three major campaigns was working in the bathroom, so the trio went to the hotel management and insisted they provide Watson with a more appropriate job. The hotel management moved Watson to a doorman’s job.

It was a job that he’d serve in for 23 years before retiring in 1962. During that time he was on a first name basis with U.S. Presidents, national heroes, and virtually every star in Hollywood. He even had a short stint serving as Elvis Presley’s bodyguard while he was performing in Hollywood in the 1950s.  That encounter led to a lifelong relationship with the singer and his manager Colonel Tom Parker. When Parker died in 1997, Watson had the honor of being one of the pallbearers at the funeral.

William E. Dietzel penned a book called “Doorman to the Stars” about Watson, his part in the Battle of the Bulge and his civilian life afterwards.

Watson, who now lives in Fresno, is returning to this year’s Not Forgotten Memorial Weekend event at Woodward Park on Sunday.

American Hero Theater added

Watson is part of the latest addition to the Not Forgotten event - the American Hero Theater.

A tent with seating has been set aside for speakers such as Watson to share their stories. There also will be an ongoing video presentation and a chance to answer questions afterwards. Among the participants besides Watson are:

• Mike Anderson who will talk about his son that laid down his life in Iraq and his trip to the battle-torn country to see where his son served and died.

• Vietnam War and Purple Heart veteran Chris Lambert.

• the Palmers who will share the story of Manteca’s own Charles O. Palmer II who died while serving America in the Global War on Terror.

It is part of the free activities that take place from 7 a.m. to past dusk at Woodward Park.

The event - the largest Memorial Day Weekend commemoration on the West Coast - is expected to again draw 15,000 people over the course of the day.

A C-17 flyover during the Traveling Tribute 11th panel dedication ceremonies has been confirmed for 3:15 p.m. The C-17 will fly low and slow at 100 knots and 800 feet during the first pass, It will travel at 250 knots and 1,500 feet during the second pass..

The Welcome Home Heroes Traveling Tribute will open at noon today at Woodward Park for public viewing. It will sit next to 7,000 crosses representing the fallen in the Global War on Terror.

Sunday starts with registration at 6:30 a.m. for the Wound Warrior Christopher Braley 5K Run/Walk sponsored by 24 Hour Fitness Manteca.

Sunday’s scheduled events includes

• 7 a.m. registration opens for the Marine Cpl. Charles O. Palmer II Memorial Car Show. There are almost 500 vehicles already registered.

• 8 a.m. Wounded Warrior Christopher Braley 5K Run/Walk starts.

•8 a.m. Opening ceremonies with Ripon VFW Post 1051.

• 9:30 a.m. Vietnam helicopter landing sponsored by Dell’Osso Farms.

• 10 a.m. Community Memorial Service with the choir “We Are Family” and Vietnam veteran Chris Lambert.

• 11:30 a.m. The free kids’ energy zone sponsored by South San Joaquin Irrigation District, military exhibits, and concessions open.

• 11:15 a.m. Richard Windfeathers on the Main Stage to start the USO Show. There will also be a community stage.

• Noon: The Electric Shoes on the Main Stage

• Noon to 1 p.m. Three helicopter landings

• 1 p.m. The band Hari Kari on the Main Stage

• 1 to 2 p.m. Manteca Police Department demonstrations

• 2:15 p.m. Cheyenne Milligan on the Main Stage

• 2:45 p.m. Arrival of the Gold Star families

• 3 p.m. Traveling Tribute panel dedication

• 4 p.m. Jim Anderson & The Rebels tribute to Elvis Presley’s early years

• 4:45 p.m. Tri-Valley Community Choir of Stockton on the Main Stage

• 5:30 p.m. We Are Family on the Main Stage

• 6 p.m. Official ceremony honoring all who have served in the Armed Forces of the United States with We Are Family and Cheyenne Milligan performing the National Anthem

• 8 p.m. Air Force Rock/Pop Band Mobility in concert

• 9 p.m. Fireworks sponsored by Manteca Christian Preschool celebrating the safe return of all of those who have served in a war.

The Traveling Tribute will remain open for public viewing through 4 p.m. on Monday.