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Pearl Harbor survivor keynote speaker at Veterans Day ceremonies in Lathrop
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To say that veterans have a special place in Arnita Montiel’s heart would be an understatement.

Her oldest brother Leland served as a Marine during World War II, and her late husband was also a member of the Corps. Her nephew – Lcpl. Brock Elliott – was the first young man from Manteca killed during the Vietnam War, and her grandson Leo Rubio proudly served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

So as the co-chair of the Lathrop Veterans Day committee, Montiel has worked hard to make sure that Friday’s ceremony at the Veterans Memorial at Valverde Park goes off without a hitch.

“I just appreciate each and every one of them for the service that gave us and our country,” she said. “When I see someone in uniform I go up and thank them for their service and putting their lives on the line for us.

“I put veterans on such a high level – that kind of service means so much to me.”

In keeping with the special circumstances of Veterans Day this year – marking the 93rd anniversary of Armistice Day – the committee has asked Petty Officer First Class (Ret.) Kevin A. Wallace to be the guest speaker at the event.

Wallace was present at Pearl Harbor when Japanese planes launched a surprise attack, and according to Montiel, ran onto the deck of the vessel he served on and returned fire.

As part of the ceremony Montiel will read a special writing entitled “What is a Veteran?” and her daughter will play a medley of each of the songs from the respective branches of the armed services.

“A veteran is special. They’re up there – they put their lives on the line so that we can enjoy ours,” she said. “That’s why this committee worked so hard to make this event a great one. They deserve the recognition that they’re going to receive.”

But the praise that veterans will receive from the City of Lathrop and its residents won’t end there.

The committee for the annual Holiday Parade on Dec. 10 – of which Montiel is the chair – has decided to use the theme “Spirit of America” and has issued an all-call for veterans that will be honored as the Grand Marshals of the 2011 event.

It seemed like the best way, she said, to thank each and every one of the men and women who donned the uniform and represented America both at home and abroad.

“We just didn’t want to single out one or two or three people because with our theme it should be all of the veterans that we’re thanking,” she said. “Especially this year with everything that went on – the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 and the troops in Iraq coming home for Christmas. It just seemed like it was appropriate and it was the right thing to do.”

Anyone interested in being a part of the veterans float can contact Moe Iorio at (209) 941-7383.