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Churches pay homage to vets
Veterans, loved ones of servicemen, clergy and patriotic Cereans gathered in Whitmore Park Saturday morning to honor all veterans.

The second annual Veterans Day observance, which drew the very young and the very old, was hosted by Ceres churches.

Pastor Rob Hidahl of Central Valley Christian Church served as emcee and asked all veterans to stand up for recognition. Applause went up as approximately 15 stood.

"I hope before you go today," Hidahl told the audience, "that you will shake their hands, look them in the eye and tell them, 'We love you. We thank you. We appreciate you.' Because of them, we can assemble in a place like this without fear of being arrested or shut down."

Among those standing were Ceres residents Irv Gilgert, Steve Breckenidge, Gary Lee Hall, Lewis Sims Jr.

Retired Ceres pastor Adrian Condit offered patriotic remarks and praise of veterans.

"I've lived quite a long time and seen a lot of changes in this great country that we live in, but I am still a proud American," said Condit. "I am glad to be an American, are you? Amen. I'd rather live here than anywhere in the whole world because we are still, with all of our faults, the greatest nation."

Condit said it's impossible to celebrate America without celebrating those who defended freedom. He praised America's fallen veterans by using Scripture found in John 15:13: "Greater love hath no man than this: That a man lay down his life for his friends."

Pastor Randy Clark of First Southern Baptist Church, himself a veteran of Vietnam, grew emotional when he reflected on the fact that the election of Barack Obama as president last week was a fulfillment of visionaries like Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King who saw a color-blind nation. He linked that revolution to the brave men and women who fought off enemies during the United States' history.

Gene Welsh, a World War II veteran living in Ceres, was singled out for recognition. He buried his face in his handkerchief as emotion overtook him as others praised him. Welsh said it's important that Americans never forget the men who died in all wars, particularly the multi-fronted World War II. Welsh watched approximately 28 of his comrades die in battle against the Japanese in the Philippines.

Vietnam War veteran Gary Lee Hall stood silent, dressed in camouflage clothing and his face covered by a cloth to represent veterans who were forever silenced in battle. Hall then spoke about the experiences of prisoners of war in the jungles of Southeast Asia. He spoke of extremes in heat and cold and the rags that they had to wear. "Think of the things he has to endure," said Hall.

Persian Gulf War veteran Trish Warner of Lodi spoke in praise of Vietnam veterans in particular.

"Every time I see a Vietnam veteran I thank them for the welcome home for the welcome home they didn't get," said Warner.

Others took turns at the microphone. Rosie Harding grew emotional when she spoke of all of her family members who served in the military.

The same emotion came from Maria Ortiz, secretary-treasurer of the American Legion Post 491 Auxiliary. "My family has given their lives because of love of God and country," said Ortiz.

"I thank God for allowing me to serve my country when I did," said Lew Sims, a 1968 graduate of Ceres High who went to Vietnam.

Steve Breckenridge shook his head at the small turn-out, saying, "You'd think this park would be full."