Sacha Avila and her young children lent three pairs of hands to help install the 7,000 plus white crosses at Woodward Park in Manteca on Friday for the Not Forgotten Memorial Day event.
Anabela, 7, and Olivia 3, dutifully carried and arranged the wood pieces for the other volunteers to hammer into the ground. Their 12-month-old sister was too young to help, but making no fuss was her contribution to the effort.
Avila’s husband, Jorge, who served in the Iraqi Freedom Operation from 2006 to 2010 followed by a two-year stint as an Army reserve, was unable to join his family. Now working as a carpenter, he had to be at his job in the Bay Area.
By taking part in the Not Forgotten observance, believed to be the only one of its kind in the United States, Avila was also honoring her late grandfather — John Thomas Mahvenholz who was in the Army — and late uncle, Navy man Christopher Frederick — who were both Vietnam veterans.
The Avilas have been residents of the Family City less than a year, and this was their first time to be part of the Not Forgotten Memorial Day observance at Woodward Park.
They were not the only newbie volunteers in this moving occasion honoring those who gave their all who fought in the War on Terror since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Manteca Noon Kiwanian Elizabeth Solorio was at the park at 8 a.m. when the volunteers started setting up the 7,000+ white crosses on the expansive grassy area where the patriotic events took place over the weekend. She brought along her young assistant, her 3-year-old granddaughter Serenity Ponce whom Solorio proudly introduced as the mascot for the Noon Kiwanis.
Solorio said she learned about the Not Forgotten event just last year when Manteca veteran and American Legion member Art Smith told her about it.
“He extended the invitation this year” to help in the volunteer effort, and that’s why they were there on Friday. Besides, “we enjoy partaking in the community. I love doing stuff like this. It’s important. It’s community,” she said.
Several young students made up the dozens of volunteers who showed up at the park. Tate Paster, 8, and his mom, Janey, took on the task of straightening and tightening the crosses. About two-dozen members of the JROTC program at Weston Ranch High School worked alongside the adults for hours in the sun. The job took practically all day to complete.
A big part of the work crew were perennial volunteers which included several city officials and other public personnel. Manteca Fire Captain Nick Haas, Manteca firefighter Kenton Shipher, and reserve firefighter Miguel Beltran wielded hammers as well to get the job done. Accompanying them was Police Officer Wes Chamberlain. Other city officials making their presence and lending helpful hands were Manteca City Councilman Rich Silverman, former mayor Carlon Perry, and Manteca Planning Commissioner Gary Singh.
Andrew Heath, pastor of Victory Life Center in Modesto and one of the event managers of Not Forgotten, has been bringing a crew of volunteers from his church on Woodland Avenue for the last several years and is the person in charge of setting up the crosses. Among the volunteer workers in his group was Michael Miller who was quick to qualify that he was not a veteran. “I ain’t nothin’; I’m just a motorcycle rider,” said the member of the Covenant Riders.