Pastor Mike Dillman knows all too well the price of freedom.
As a Vietnam veteran he saw fellow Americans die in the jungles of Southeast East Asia. Then he came home and almost lost his wife, his ministry and his family to post-traumatic stress disorder.
He credits extensive work staging the Memorial Day Weekend Commemoration that he has undertaken with the help of hundreds of volunteers so the ultimate sacrifices of men and women serving American will never be taken for granted or forgotten as being his therapy.
“It is what has saved me,” Dillman said.
The event on Sunday, May 29, at Woodward Park that last year drew 15,000 people from throughout Northern California is considered the largest of its kind on the West Coast. This year it has been trimmed down to one day from two but the crowd could be even larger.
The car show alone has already attracted 400 pre-entries. It includes a USO-style show from 7 to 8:30 p.m. that evening featuring country star, former American Idol contestant, and former Marine Josh Gracin in a free concert. The concert alone accounts for $12,000 of the overall $40,000 budget that includes an aerial fireworks display bigger than last year to celebrate all of those who made it home safely from war.
The day will start with a 5K run at 8 a.m. followed by a breakfast. At 9 a.m. the Ripon Veterans of Foreign Wars will offer a 21-gun salute to remember those who served and have since died. Worship services will take place at the park at 10 a.m.
At 2:30 p.m., the latest panel of the traveling tribute to those who have died in the Global War on Terror complete with names will be dedicated followed by a rare missing man aerial formation using C-130 aircraft - four of the military’s largest airplanes at 3 p.m. Seeing a C-130 in a missing man formation isn’t that unusual but having the entire formation consist of C-130 planes is a fairly rare event.
The main ceremonies honoring those who gave their lives takes place at 6 p.m.
There will be military vehicle display, pony rides, entertainment, a kids’ energy zone twice as large as last year, food, veteran services, and other events.
Dillman said it is appropriate that the 6,000=plus crosses representing each of those who have died serving America in the Global War on Terror will be adjacent to the children’s play area again.
“They gave their lives so we can celebrate our lives,” Dillman said in noting those who died are why children in America are free to play today.
Dillman said it was an emotional experience last year sleeping overnight in Woodward Park going to rest looking at the crosses and then waking up to them as the first thing he saw in the morning.
The commemoration started originally as a church pageant at the Place of Refuge and started growing year by year as more people wanted to honor those who have died as well as those who have served and are still living.
The Woodward Park activities are in addition to traditional Memorial Day ceremonies at East Union cemetery on May 30 as well as the Manteca Chamber of Commerce parade the same day at 11:30 a.m. in downtown Manteca.