Tracy Cemetery is the resting place of nearly 1,000 veterans. They may be gone but certainly not forgotten.
Manteca High School graduate Jenese Litle Borges-Soto and her small, but growing, band of volunteers are making sure of that. Every three to four weeks, she and a group of 3 to 13 at a time go to the cemetery to place miniature flags, flowers, and leis on the gravestones of military service men and women who are buried there.
“I believe there are close to 1,000 veterans that we take care of,” said Borges-Soto who now calls Tracy home but still has family living Manteca. She works as a caregiver to a veteran in Tracy.
The movement that is making this patriotic gesture possible is “Gone But Not Forgotten Veterans Project” which she started, along with high school friend Michelle Light, two years ago.
“The project is a labor of love, (started) after my baby brother passed away in 2011,” Borges-Soto said, explaining the genesis of this all-volunteer effort to honor all those who have served their country. Her brother was not in the military.
“After being at the cemetery and seeing so many veterans’ graves bare for so many months, Michelle and I decided to start this project and show our appreciation by putting out flags and flowers or leis, if they don’t have vases, out on all the (fallen) veterans that don’t have family or friends to take care of them. If they have a vase, we place two bunches of silk flowers and a flag. If they just have a headstone, we put a flower lei. We are still in the works for the veterans’ (graves) that don’t have either.”
Light is a friend of Borges-Soto from their days at Manteca High. Unfortunately, Light was unable to keep up with the project.
“She backed away… about two years ago because it was too hard for her to go back and forth from Manteca without a car,” said Borges-Soto.
But in the short span of two years since the launching of Gone But Not Forgotten, she has seen a groundswell of support from the community.
“I’m amazed at how many people have come on board helping with their time and donations since we started in 2012,” said a deeply impressed Borges-Soto.
Recently, she reached out to another longtime Manteca friend, Joe Brocchini, when the latter announced on his Facebook page, History of Manteca, that he is inviting volunteers to help clean and spruce up the markers on veterans’ graves at the pioneer East Union Cemetery in Manteca. That work day will be Saturday, March 28, starting at 9 a.m. As of Thursday, some three-dozen would-be volunteers have pledged to be there to lend a hand. The latest group to step up to the place is the Manteca Police Canine Cadets. Brocchini has said that the job may take two to three hours, depending on the number of volunteers that will actually show up.
Borges-Soto said she would like to form a Gone But Not Forgotten volunteer group here in Manteca.
“I’m hoping to get a group together that will take care of East Union (cemetery) the way we do in Tracy,” she said.
To join this Manteca group, and for additional information, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 209.640.9543. You can also log on to the group’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com and type Gone But Not Forgotten on the search tab.