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Vietnam vets appreciate thank-you gestures
Not even replacement surgeries on both knees a few days ago kept World War II veteran Ed Kaslin from attending the Veterans Day observance Thursday at the Library Park. Sitting next to him is wife Marguerite. - photo by ROSE ALBANO RISSO
Art Smith stood in formation Thursday afternoon with members of the VFW Post 6311 Color Guard waiting patiently for the time to shift his weapon, drop his weapon, and ultimately fire in the volley that comprised the 21-gun salute.

As a Vietnam War veteran that grew up with some of those from Manteca who never made it home, the day was emotional for Smith. He reflected on learning that he’d never get a chance to speak with Brock Elliott or any of the 16 other young men from Manteca who didn’t make it home.

Like many of that era, his own homecoming wasn’t filled with the hero’s welcome that those coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan receive today.

But seeing the community of Manteca come out en masse Thursday morning at 11 a.m. in the parking lot of the Manteca Library to honor the veterans gave Smith a sense of pride – both as a veteran and a lifelong member of a community that pays respect to those who make sacrifices for the American freedoms we all enjoy.

“To me it’s a day to reflect on and honor each and every person who served in the United States military,” Smith said. “This is a day to remember my father, my brother, and my brother-in-law – who are all now deceased – and to thank the younger boys and girls who are over there fighting right now.

“Things have changed drastically since I came home from Vietnam, and while this sort of event would have been appreciated then, it’s nice to have people coming up to me now 41 years later and thanking me for my service.”

Smith wasn’t the only Vietnam veteran who noticed the stark change in attitudes over the course of the last four decades.

Tom Liggett – who made a career in the Navy from 1961 through 1982 – was deployed to Vietnam three times, and remembered when those who flew into San Francisco on their way back home were taunted and even assaulted if they wore their uniform.

Something, he says, has changed in the country since that day. And people are now starting to show their respect to the young men who had the good fortune to return home.

“People are really starting to welcome Vietnam veterans home, and I think that’s a good thing,” Liggett said. “I think that Pastor Mike Dillman at a Place of Refuge on Button has really carried that message home, and I know a lot of the Vietnam vets appreciate living in a community that honors them.

“I love living here in Manteca. To see the turnout on a day like this, and to see the flags flying all across town, it’s patriotic, and it shows that those men didn’t die for nothing.”

And patriotism was the order of the day Thursday morning for the hundreds of people who filled every available seat in the parking lot and formed a large standing crowd that extended back into Library Park.

The entire crowd joined together in singing “God Bless America,” and you could have heard a pin drop during the posting of the colors or the lead-up to the 21 gun salute.

In the eyes of Army Airborne Vietnam veteran Harry Nagy, Manteca goes above and beyond when it comes paying tribute to those who served in the armed services.

“Overall, I think Manteca is one of the best around in terms of honoring the veteran. I’m grateful to be here in a community that respects the veterans, and I respect the community for that reason,” Nagy said. “Veterans Day is all about recognizing the sacrifices that veterans made for this country, and I think we all saw that here today.”