There were many worker bees buzzing around Woodward Park early Friday morning.
Dan and Barbara Evans of Sonora made the trip down the hill to volunteer their time and effort in helping set up the 7,000 crosses representing the fallen in the Global War on Terror that will be displayed all weekend.
“We won’t be able to attend the weekend festivities here, so making the morning drive in to Manteca to help set up, seemed a nice idea to honor our men and women that gave their lives,” said Dan, a Vietnam veteran, and 1964 graduate of Thomas Downey High in Modesto. “It never leaves you” he added, referring to the two tours of duty he spent overseas fighting and the friends he lost in that war.
There is an air of diligence and pride amongst those helping to ensure Manteca’s Memorial Day Weekend goes off without a hitch. Men and women of all generations; World War II, Korean War, Vietnam, Desert Shield were just a few of the patches I saw. One old timer recognized me from this column and took a light hearted aim. “Hey Teicheira – let the professionals handle the interviews son. You just stick to making us laugh at your expense” he said after watching me stumble and bumble through an attempted interview.
And he was right.
Memorial Day resonates differently for each individual. It was after my third ham handed “What does Memorial Day mean to you?”, that I realized that is a question that runs much too deep, (to be asked by a dude standing in a park with his deaf puppy), and expect to be given an answer that will adequately summate a person’s feelings.
My grandfather Jack Cunningham served in WWII. He was a First Lieutenant with the 4th Infantry Division – a forward observer who was part of the D-Day Invasion at Utah Beach. Do you know how many times I heard him speak about the war as a kid? Practically none. The majority of brave men and women that served our country in war hold their truths and stories very tight to the vest. Every now and then I’d get a short quip from my papa, as we’d watch Kelly’s Heroes for the 100th time. But it was never a story of battle, or of the horrendous things soldiers endure while in war. It would be something about a brother in arms’ strange laugh, or how this one time “Pete from Omaha” got slapped by a woman for getting fresh.
I cannot imagine what Memorial Day is like for those that have served and watched comrades die in front of them. And have certainly not earned the position in life, to ask someone else “What does Memorial Day mean to you?” So I immediately stopped asking questions, and started helping unload stuff – that is what Memorial Day meant to me.
A group of people free in a park. Smiles on faces on a bright morning. People helping each other. No judgment. No social classes. No worrying about the who, what, where, when, and how of everyday life. Just a hodge podge of society, up early to make sure we honor those that gave their lives.
Memorial Day in truth resonates every day in the freedoms and luxuries we have been afforded by people no longer with us. It resonates in the faces of Chuck and Teri Palmer, who lost their son Marine Cpl. Charles Palmer II in Iraq on May 5, 2007. The Palmers created the Charles O. Palmer Memorial Troop Support Program – collecting everyday items and amenities to be sent to our troops overseas.
It resonates in the face of every soldier you see. It resonates in every kid in town enjoying a day on the playground. It resonates within absolutely everything we do, for without the sacrifice of the men and women that died serving our freedom – we may very well have none.
Nearly 25,000 people will make their way to Manteca this weekend to take part in the Not Forgotten Memorial Weekend events at Woodward Park. Seven thousand crosses will be on display to represent the brave men and women that have given their lives in service of our country since 9/11. Our once small town is home to the largest Memorial Day celebration west of the Mississippi River. This is one event we should not only take pride in, but participate in.
The streets of Manteca will once again be lined with 2,400 American flags on Monday. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing visible patriotism in my hometown. It reminds me of the feeling I get when driving in town on a Christmas Day, the feeling that every car you pass is sharing in the same emotion. That we are connected in the gratitude we owe to people we have never known. That for a day we can cut through religion, politics, nationality, gender and whatever prevents us from feeling this way every day — and see each other as proud Americans.
Whatever your plans are for this weekend – heading to a barbecue, lying by the pool, visiting family, or even those having to work – take a second to remind yourself and those around you that any freedom you are currently afforded was paid for by the lives of American soldiers. Take the time to explain to the kids growing up around you that war isn’t glamorous; that it isn’t a Mark Wahlberg movie where the hero always comes out on top. Some heroes never get the chance to come home and realize the freedoms they have created and protected.
“It’s not Where ya do, It’s What ya do.”