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Tolling of the bell highlight of Lathrop Memorial Day service
Standing in front, from left: Josie Tafoya, sister of the first Lathrop casualty of the Vietnam War, Ernie Tafoya; her nephew, Army veteran Chester Somera, former Lathrop mayor and Korean veteran Bennie Gatto, and Mantecan John Mendes, 91, whose youngest brother was killed in action in China during the Korean War, stand at attention during Mondays Memorial Day ceremonies in Lathrop. Somera escorted the body of his young cousin when it was brought back to the United States. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO

LATHROP – One by one, the names were called out by Debbie Rock.

“Private James Chio!”

“Staff Sgt. Donald V. Rieger!”

“LCPL Brock D. Elliott!”

“PFC Joseph Tafoya!”

“CWO David Angelo F. Alvarez!”

Each time came the loud response, “No answer!” And following those two words each time was the clear toll of the bell echoing in the silence.

That tolling of the bell has become the traditional highlight of Memorial Day ceremonies at the Veterans Memorial Wall at Valverde Park in Lathrop. Each name called out is etched on the shiny granite monument – the names of Lathrop soldiers who gave their all for their country. From World War I (Pvt. James Joseph Chio, Army), World War II (Cpl George R. Calloway (Marine Corps, Staff Sgt. Donald Rieger, U.S. Army Corps), Korean War (T/Sgt Roscoe Carnes, Jr. (Marine Corps and Cpl Alvin R. Mendes (Army), Vietnam War (BM3 Charles M. White, Sr., Navy; LCPL Brock Elliott, Marine Corps, WO Gale Butcher, Jr., Army, and PFC Joseph Tafoya, Army); to the Iraqi Operation Freedom (1st Lt. Michael W. Vega, Army National Guard, and CWO David Angelo F. Alvarez, Army).

One soldier’s remains were never brought home to America because his body was never found. Alvin Mendes was killed in action in China during the Korean War. His older brothers John, 91, and Frank Mendes, and his sister Laura Rothlin, all of Manteca, along with other relatives were there to remember the hero in their family whose memory will live in their hearts forever.

“Can anything be more ironic?” program keynote speaker Col. Adrian W. Burke of the US Marine Corps asked in his speech before the group that gathered in front of the Memorial Wall for Monday’s solemn service.

American service men and women love America so much they spend long years overseas serving their country, he said.

“They revere freedom; they love liberty. Yet they forsake their own to let others taste it,” said Col. Burke, commander of the Defense Logistics Agency Defense Distribution Depot for San Joaquin at the former Sharpe Army Depot in Lathrop.

And speaking about the fallen soldiers who have given their all for their country, for freedom and liberty, although “they are not here today,” they will never be forgotten. “Remember them with me today,” he said.

Taking part in the 11 a.m. ceremony included members of the Lathrop High School Band and Choir, the Lathrop High JROTC, Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal who placed the memorial wreath for all the fallen soldiers assisted by Aaron Bazon who is commander of the Stockton Young Marines, Arnita Montiel who is chairwoman of the Memorial Day Committee, and Troop No. 422 Eagle Scout Ryan Stolz.