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Veterans vow to never let sacrifices be forgotten
American Legion Post 249 McFall-Grisham commander Penny Winston, right, and fellow Legion member Rocky Wilson look over photos he took of Thursdays veterans program at the Manteca museum. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Alan Marsden doesn’t want the history of today’s veterans to fade away.

As a board member for the Manteca Historical Society, Marsden – himself an Air Force veteran who proudly served for nearly two decades in one capacity or another – made it a point to push for Thursday night’s program that focused on local veterans and featured Place of Refuge Pastor Mike Dillman as the guest speaker.

Watching new generations as they come up, Marsden said, shows that the level of disconnect only grows and needs to be reinforced however possible.

“I really don’t think that there’s enough education out there today for young people about our war involvement,” Marsden said. “I’m encouraged that we’re able to put on programs like this that do focus on these things because they’re important to remember.”

Veterans Day ceremonies scheduled for today in the South County include:

• 11 a.m. inside the John McFall Room at the Manteca Library on Center Street in downtown Manteca.

• 11 a.m. at the Veterans Memorial Wall at Valverde Park in Lathrop.

• 10:30 a.m. at the Veterans Wall, 311 First St. at Locust St., in Ripon.

When it comes to making sure that veterans are remembered there is nobody in Manteca that takes the task more seriously than Dillman.

For the last five years the Manteca pastor – who served two tours in Vietnam as a chaplain – has transformed Memorial Day weekend into a full-fledged attraction that drew upwards of 20,000 people this last year to come pay their respects to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for freedom and liberty.

There’s a level of gratitude there that he says hardly be put into words.

“When you put on the cloth of this nation and put your life on the line, we owe a debt of gratitude to you that can never be fully repaid,” he said. “You put on that uniform, you took your place on that wall and for that we salute you.”

But as he divulged in his talk, the statistics of what veterans sacrifice for their service – especially those who have been to war – are downright sobering.

According to Dillman roughly three times as many Vietnam War veterans have committed suicide than actually died in combat, and 300,000 more of them are imprisoned. When you consider that more than half-a-million were considered unemployable after their service and 91 percent have been divorced, the scars begin to come into sharp focus.

And new war veterans continue to come home from the Middle East almost daily. To date more than 6,000 troops have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan – something that Dillman symbolizes on Memorial Day with white crosses that are laid out in Woodward Park as a stark reminder that some gave everything.

Dillman says that he’s planning on talking to Manteca Unified School District to see if students would be able to take a trip to the park to see all of the crosses laid out and browse the names of those who have perished fighting the War on Terror since September 11, 2001.

In the meantime, he said, it’s our job to go out of our way to pray for those who perished and welcome back those that served with open arms.

“We need to show them the compassion and the love and the honor that they deserve. If we lose a single man or woman it’s too much – it breaks the heart of our nation,” Dillman said. “They need to come home to the warm embrace of a grateful country.”