The sounds of kids doing what kids do best - playing - filled the air without missing a beat as the last mournful note of “Taps” dissipated on a brisk autumn Sunday under the stately sycamores at Library Park.
Forty-three years ago and some 7,900 miles away a much different scene played out in the thick jungle foliage of Monkey Hill where AK47 and M16 gunfire silenced the chatter of birds.
The two snapshots in time are forever joined due to the sacrifice made by a man - not many years out of childhood himself - while serving America. It was in a conflict that is ancient history - if even - that to the kids scampering over a geo-shaped monkey apparatus but as vivid as yesterday in the minds of many gathered in the parking lot outside of the Manteca Library.
The occasion was Veterans Day 2012. The crowd by Manteca standards was sparse at best even though it numbered just under 100. Most people were elsewhere. They were in church, getting ready to watch the Raiders or 49ers, shopping, puttering in their yards, or simply hanging out with their families.
In short, they were enjoying the freedoms secured by 48 million men and women since 1775 who have taken up arms to defend America and the principles of human dignity outlined eloquently on a scared parchment at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.
The 21-gun salute that rang out Sunday followed by “Taps” honored the 1,346,000 who have fallen since the beginning of the republic as well as those who have since passed on after serving. But there was one among those whose sacrifice was specifically being remembered.
He once used the free public library that provided the backdrop for Sunday’s ceremony. He once freely passed along Yosemite Avenue - perhaps to reach the El Rey to see entertainment free of government censorship or to partake in a free public education at Manteca High.
They were all things that Robert Malcolm Davenport enjoyed that were secured by the blood and sacrifices of men and women that went before him.
Today the kids playing in Library Park or holding an iPhone to record their older sister in the East Union High Bella Voce Choir singing “Beneath My Wings” during Sunday’s ceremonies are able to do so because of sacrifices made by men like Army Sgt. Robert Davenport.
His aunt - Grace Kelley - Sunday accepted a Bronze Medal with “V” Device for Valor from Marine Col. Adrian Burke of Sharpe Depot on behalf of a grateful nation.
Davenport - considered by those who served with him the best squad leader in their platoon - was on patrol on a warm day 80 miles south of Saigon in the highlands of Vietnam looking for booby traps, enemy bunkers and the Viet Cong.
The 23-year-old assigned to Airborne’s 503rd Infantry had been in the war zone for four months when his point squad was moving along a trail through heavy jungle growth. Davenport suddenly detected motion in the foliage. He motioned to his radio telephone operator the direction of the movement but due to almost imminent contact did not have sufficient time to alert the entire squad. With complete disregard for his own personnel safety, Davenport moved forward and on the right flank in an effort to engage the enemy before the point team could be brought under devastating hostile fire in the attack zone.
The enemy responded shooting him in the head but by doing so forced the enemy to expose their position and saved the rest of his squad from either certain death or devastating wounds.
“Let’s not forget the cost of liberty is paid for with blood, by so many Americans on foreign shores,” Col. Burke noted.
It was a reminder those clutching yellow roses as members of Gold Star families or those who once wore the cloth of an American soldier into battle didn’t need. They know the steep price of liberty.
But then again, the sweet sound of children free to play in freedom’s bright light devoid of tyranny was a reminder of the priceless liberties that are worthy of such heart-wrenching sacrifices. Most of us, though, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month showed our gratitude not in a few minutes of reflecting upon the liberties secured by the blood of others but in exercising those freedoms won and protected by shopping, watching a game or worshipping as we choose.