The community of Hughson came together Friday morning to honor a number of locals who fought and died in America's wars over the past 75 years.
At least four World War II era veterans and six veterans from the Korean Conflict attended the dedication of a new Veterans Memorial Wall at the Hughson Sports and Fitness Complex, which is located on the Hughson High School campus. During the 10 a.m. ceremony they mingled with younger veterans, military spouses, community members and elected officials.
The memorial consists of a veneer stone wall and steel plaque etched with the names of service personnel from Hughson who lost their lives while fighting overseas. Behind the wall are three flagpoles on which the U.S. flag, POW flag and "We Support Our Troops" flag were flying.
A section of the plaque also memorializes law enforcement officers from Hughson who died on duty. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Billy Jo Dickens was killed during a 1970 bank robbery on Hughson Avenue. Another Hughson resident, California Highway Patrolman Officer Earl Scott, was fatally shot during a Feb. 17, 2006 traffic stop on Highway 99 between Salida and Ripon. Sheriff's Department Community Service Technician Mary A. Donahou was killed in a Dec. 30, 2011 traffic accident on Santa Fe Avenue south of Whitmore Avenue. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Deputy Dennis R. Wallace, also a native of Hughson, was shot to death during a Nov. 13, 2016 traffic stop at Fox Grove Fishing Access near Hughson.
The memorial was a joint effort of the Hughson Unified School District, the city of Hughson, Hughson Sports and Fitness Complex Steering Committee and Scranton and Hughson Post 872 of the American Legion.
Hughson High School Principal Debra Davis said she realizes there are many veterans' memorials across the land but said she doesn't know of any that are located on a high school campus.
"We're really, really super proud of that fact," said Davis. She said while the complex is on the high school campus it is for the entire community.
Mike Anderson, an aide to Congressman Jeff Denham, brought an American flag flown over the U.S. Capitol.
State Assemblyman Heath Flora said he was honored to be standing "before such a group of people that I consider celebrities in our community. Our veterans ... are folks that we can never forget."
County Supervisor Vito Chiesa commented that only seven percent of Americans are veterans, making them a special breed. He plugged the county's new Veterans Center located at 3500 Coffee Road, Suite 19, Modesto, which provides healthcare as well as doctor appointment transportation and other services.
Hughson Mayor Jeramy Young handed out certificates to the veterans groups on hand as well as the Hughson School District. He said the new sports complex is well used by the community and placement of the memorial at its gate will help many "remember the sacrifices of so many to give us the freedom we enjoy today."
Young gave praise to Mike Bava of the Hughson Sports and Fitness Complex Steering Committee who spent many Saturdays constructing and "putting a lot of love into this wall."
Bava said during construction he was asked by many children what the the wall was about. He said reminding current and future generations is what the memorial is all about.
"Our youth today don't always understand and know what Veterans Day means," said Bava. "They understand that flags go out, schools get closed, businesses get closed and for a lot of youngsters they do understand why we're paying our respects. But they don't understand the personal side ... it doesn't always hit home. It doesn't get personal until there's somebody lost and all of a sudden the numbers, the casualties, all those things don't matter anymore to a family who's lost a loved one, it doesn't matter to the community. That's why it's so important that a memorial be here in our community because our community is an extension of our family and the pain and suffering that a family has to go through when they lose someone should be felt also through the community. It shouldn't be a figure. It shouldn't be a statistic. It is personal."
The ceremony included David Smith singing the National Anthem, the laying of the wreath, reading of names of the fallen, playing of taps and a special tribute to veterans. The ceremony was followed by a short reception with refreshments.
Names of World War II service personnel from Hughson engraved on the plaque are: Clifton Andrews, Johnny Bavaster, Frank Byrd, Carl H. De La Motte, Carl W. Hamlow, Ashley Hickseer, Charles R. Greer, Harold Phillips and Emett W. Terrill, all who were ranked Private First Class (PFC); second lieutenants William Barker, Chlyde M. Hudelson Jr., and Frank J. Marksman; Sgt. Earl J. Brummel, Lt. John A. Johnston, A2C Raymond Smith, and S. Sgt. Trutt Williams.
Hughson's Captain Hugh Kienitz and Pfc. Stanley Yoppini died in the Korean War and are memorialized.
Three from Hughson died in the Vietnam War. They were PFC John Franklin, Sgt. Anthony Leroy Lema, Lt. Jack Letourneau, Corporal Coy Stark and Captain Steve Wright.
Among the veterans in attendance were Tony "Papa" Inzana, a former Ross Middle School teacher who served in Panama and Europe during World War II and after until 1949. Also attending was Burt Gilpin, who served aboard the USS Lexington after World War II.