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Brock Elliott Day honors young fallen soldiers of Vietnam War
Brock Elliott students and staff applaud during the 25th annual Brock Elliott Day program held on Monday. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

Brock Dennis Elliott was 18 years old when he died. He was 17 when he enlisted in the Marine Corps on June 27, 1966. Less than a year later, on May 26, 1967, he was killed in action in Vietnam. He was the first Manteca resident killed in that unpopular conflict.

In 1988, the new school that opened that year was named in his honor. On the first anniversary of the school’s opening, the new campus celebrated Brock Elliott Day. Appropriately, it was held in conjunction with the observance of Veterans Day.

That was 25 years ago.

On Tuesday, on the eve of Veterans Day, Brock Elliott School and guests once again gathered to remember the young man who gave up his life in the service of his country and freedom. The occasion also served as a special moment to remember the 16 other Manteca and Lathrop soldiers in other branches of the military who died during the Vietnam conflict. In front of the school are 17 boulders upon which the names of the fallen soldiers, ranging in age from 18 to 29, are memorialized. The day’s program likewise served as a special moment to honor all veterans, several of whom attended the event held in the school’s courtyard, and were honored with a special recognition.

The part of the program that held the audience spellbound was the moment when 17 Brock Elliott students went up the stage and called out the names of each of the young soldiers, their ages when they were killed in Vietnam, and the military branch in which they served. The silence was palpable.

One of the highlights of the program was the appearance of the school’s first principal, Becky Rector, who shared plenty of glimpses from those early years that Principal Debbie Ruger was prompted to comment after the speech, “I learned some new things today.”

“It was difficult to celebrate,” Rector recalled the war that claimed the lives of the young local soldiers. The sadness and the loss of those young lives were compounded by the protests that reverberated throughout the United States by people who were against the country’s involvement in the conflict going on in that Southeast Asian country, turning the dynamite issue into a “pointed anger.” It was “a sad thing to bear,” Rector remembered.

But the dedication of the school about two decades after the end of the Vietnam became even more significant and memorable because of the number of Vietnam War veterans who came to the event, “some of whom have never worn their uniform until that day,” said Rector, reminding the students about their school’s “legacy of pride and service.”

She closed her speech by telling the students, “Remember, you are champions all.”

Student speaker Miranda Miller, an eighth grader, elaborated on that theme and talked about what it means to be a true champion.

“A true champion has courage… and determination to make dreams a reality,” she said,

Guest speaker Julie Thomas, an Army veteran whose children attend Brock Elliott School, took the concept of being a champion further in her speech. Champions, she pointed out, are “not quitters, don’t make excuses, persevere when things get hard, and show respect and treat others with kindness.” These are qualities embedded in the lessons that are taught to every Brock Elliott student every day, she said.

When it came time to name the new school, some of the names that were suggested were “The Soldiers, The Warriors, The Titans, and The Knights,” Thomas said. They were aiming for a name that would speak of valor and that highlighted skills. Even the school’s purple color was selected to reflect courage, bravery and honor, she said.

In closing her message, Thomas shared with the students a quote that she learned from a leadership she recently attended: “If your mind can conceive it, and your heart can believe it, then you can achieve it.”

School principal Ruger ended the morning program with a special request: “Please remember the veterans tomorrow. This celebration (Brock Elliott Day) is just a small way we can recognize them.”

Others who made the event a day to remember included the Lathrop/Sierra High School JROTC who presented the colors, the school’s band and choir directed by Melissa Manalastas with their renditions of patriotic music and songs – “Let Freedom Ring!” “O, America,” and “Freedom Finale: A Patriotic Salute” – and Diego Juarez, a great-nephew of Brock Elliott who presented a bouquet of red roses to Charlene Carroll, sister of the fallen soldier, who attended the event with husband Michael and other members of the family.