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River Islands dedicates Michael Vega Park
Michael Vegas sister Deborah Adams shows the dog tags that she still wears around her neck along with a sacrifice star to complement a photo of her brother on Veterans Day. - photo by JASON CAMPBELL

He was remembered as the life of the party – the guy that always had the smile and always had time for his family.

So when 1st Lt. Michael Vega died at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., nine days after the vehicle he was riding in rolled over during a battle with insurgents, it devastated his family and gave him the unwanted honor of being the first Lathrop service member killed in action in the post-9/11 era.

On Tuesday many of those family members gathered at River Islands to see the official unveiling of the Michael Vega Memorial Park and the plaque that will forever memorialize the sacrifice that he made for his country.

It was an emotional time for those who made the drive to see the beautiful, sprawling 3-acre site that overlooks one of the development’s signature lakes – people like sister Michelle Stansburg of Benicia that was there when the groundbreaking took place in 2006.

“It’s just very touching and emotional for me and my family,” she said, brushing back tears. “Mikey was somebody that was very special to us and we like to say that he was the glue that held us all together. He was just a special person, and he’s somebody that we all still miss every day.”

The ceremony was part unveiling of the plaque that pays tribute to Vega’s sacrifice – a smaller version of the plaque was given to his family so that they could take it home with them – and part unveiling of the park that had just opened three days prior. 

It’s the first completed park at River Islands. It boasts a multi-generational approach to recreation as well as a boathouse with a dock where residents can take canoes and small sailboats out on the water for an afternoon. 

The day and the setting weren’t lost on Deborah Adams – Michael’s other sister from American Canyon – who marveled at the beauty that she’ll now associate with her brother’s memory whenever the family comes to pay a special visit. 

“This is just a beautiful community that has been behind this from the start and it’s a wonderful way to honor the memory of my brother and his name,” she said. “And for it to happen on Veteran’s Day is even more special.”

Dignitaries like Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal offered consoling words. 

“Some gave all, and all gave some,” Dhaliwal said. “Lt. Michael Vega gave all. He sacrificed his life for us, for our freedom and our country. And I want to thank River Islands for dedicating the park to Michael Vega. This park will never let Michael Vega’s memory die.”