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Society dedicates 1st of five veterans murals
Mural 4
San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott in his military uniform addresses the gathering that attended the dedication ceremony Monday for the first of five murals in downtown Manteca honoring veterans. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO/The Bulletin

The first of five murals honoring Manteca soldiers who served in war time, from World War I to the present Global War on Terror, was dedicated on the day that celebrates the contributions of those brave military men and women – Veterans Day.

The dedication ceremony, emceed by Manteca Historical Society president Norm Knodt, was held in the parking lot of Manteca Bedquarters on the northwest corner of Yosemite Avenue and North Main Street in the city’s downtown business district.

The first mural, a 16-foot-by-20-foot acrylic painting titled “Eaglehearts” by Manteca artist Jesse Marinas, graces the north end of the wall. Knodt told the audience of local dignitaries, veterans, and residents that the Manteca Mural Society hopes to have all five panels completed and installed in two to three years. Next to be installed will be the World War II panel, Knodt explained, because the Mural Society wants to get that piece done while “we still have World War 2 veterans.” It will be located on the south end of the wall next to the World War I panel which will be closest to Yosemite Avenue. In between will be the murals for Korean War and Vietnam War veterans.

Mayor Willie Weatherford noted that the Bedquarters wall is historically significant to the Family City because it was here where, at one time, the “names of every man and woman” in Manteca who served in the military were etched and proudly placed on display.

“What a patriotic community,” Weatherford said of the town that he served, first, as chief of police, and later as mayor. “You ought to be proud of Manteca.”

Pastor Mike Dillman said the mural will long serve as a reminder to everyone today and to all future generations of what the service and sacrifices of veterans mean, just as the pile of rocks Moses and his people piled on the seashore after they crossed the Red Sea reminded their people and others after them of the story of their deliverance.

The mural “represents a community bonded by love and patriotism,” said Dillman who also recalled that after serving in Vietnam, “I came home to an ungrateful nation.” It was that sad experience which was his inspiration to start the annual Memorial Day “Not Forgotten” event which honors “all the heroes…, the ones who didn’t come home” from the war – 57,000 young service men and women from the Vietnam War alone and 7,000 from the still ongoing War on Terror.

“Those are the heroes, those are the ones we salute today,” Dillman said.

San Joaquin County Supervisor Bob Elliott, whose District 5 includes half of Manteca, drew some laughs when he noted that he “regret(s) that this mural is not in my half of the district.”

Speaking about the significance of the “Eaglehearts” mural, it is important that “we remember not only with words but also with deeds” the veterans to whom “our nation owes a great debt,” said Elliott who is, himself, a veteran who served in the military’s Special Forces and is a former Green Beret.

He encouraged everyone to live in such a way that “the sacrifices they made were not in vain,” to enjoy the freedom that the veterans fought for by exercising their privileges and rights such as voting during election time, writing letters to the editor, and “just living life to the fullest.”

Speaking about his painting, artist Marinas said, “This is my gift to Manteca, and I’m pretty sure this is Manteca’s gift to America.”

He drew laughter when he shared that the first time he saw the Bedquarters wall when he and his wife, Aida, moved to Manteca, he told his wife, “One of these days, you’re going to see my mural here. She just laughed at me.”

But on a serious note, he explained that his “Eaglehearts” painting “started as a bereavement card” that he sent to a friend whose son was killed in Afghanistan.

“I didn’t know how to say I’m sorry so I sent the card to them,” he recalled.

“As a Filipino American, this is my gift to Manteca,” he said of his mural.

The Manteca Mural Society will need $100,000 to complete the entire veterans mural project, and its completion will depend on the receipt of that total donation, said Knodt.