Phil Waterford didn’t serve in the military.
And he didn’t give much thought to what the men and women who wore America’s uniforms went through on the behalf of the nation until four years ago when Pastor Mike Dillman convinced the Ford dealership owner to emcee the first Not Forgotten Memorial Day Weekend commemoration to take place at Woodward Park.
By the time that weekend four years was over, it had changed Waterford’s life.
“I was truly amazed at what these men had gone through,” Waterford recalled as he listened intently to each soldier as they told their individual stories. “It became clear to me that freedom is not free.”
Waterford since then has been doing what he can to make sure those who served understand they are appreciated.
This year, Waterford provided two 2012 Ford Fiestas for the Not Forgotten committee to raffle off to raise the bulk of the funding needed to cover the $60,000 tab for staging this year’s Memorial Day weekend event.
Waterford presented the two Fords to the winning ticketholders on Sunday. He also had a third vehicle to present Sunday as well. This one was a gift to a Vietnam veteran - Mike Dillman.
“We thank him for his service to our country and for the work he does in our community for veterans and our fallen heroes and their families,” Waterford noted in presenting Dillman with a brand-new 2012 Ford Eco-boost 4x4 pickup truck.
Dillman recalled returning soldiers from Vietnam being spit on as they arrived stateside. He wanted to make sure that those who served in the Global War on Terror came back home to the embrace of a grateful nation.
Dillman has noted that that Manteca’s Memorial Weekend event not only helps people to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice but it has worked as a public way to thank those who are still alive for their service. The Manteca event is the largest of its kind on the West Coast and attracted nearly 20,000 people to Woodward Park last month.
“It used to be important for me to be successful but what I found is far more important, is to be significant,” Waterford said. “You could be successful and make an awful lot of money but when you die that ends. When you’re significant is when you have the opportunity to teach other people to be successful and that last many a lifetime.”
Waterford added that, “as long as we have troops overseas in harm’s way, we have an obligation here at home to support them and their families in any way that we can.”
The 2012 Ford Fiestas were won by Susan Feighery and the Manteca Rotary.
Feighery is a disabled veteran who served in the United States Army. She was injured in Operation Desert Storm. Feighery worked for the Palo Alto Veterans Administration and provided recreational therapy for injured military personnel. She has a prosthetic and walks with a cane. She is also a breast cancer survivor. Her current car is a 1993 Ford Festiva she purchased brand new.
Four years ago at the Not Forgotten event Waterford recalled being in the presence of men such as World War II Battle of the Bulge veteran Earl “The Pearl” Watson, Vietnam veteran Bob Gutierrez, Iraq War veteran Chris Braley, and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Sammy Davis. Hearing their stories over a dinner at the start of the weekend brought him to tears.
That inspired him the next day to give cash to Braley and Jose Jaurequi, another injured Iraqi war veteran who had suffered extensive burns. He then gave the first new 2010 Ford Fusion his dealership had taken delivery of to Gutierrez. It was only after he had made the decision to give Gutierrez a free car that he learned the former Manteca resident who now resides in Texas was a traveling minister who had asked his friends to pray that his car that was in serious need of repairs would make it to and from California. Gutierrez suffered severe damage to his vocal chords from a grenade in Vietnam.
During the next year’s ceremonies, Waterford asked Gutierrez to give back the car so he could present him with a newer model. The original Fusion then was presented to Watson.