While most people were enjoying a long weekend or making plans for a barbecue heading to the lakes, approximately 70 Ceres residents took over an hour on Monday to remember those for whom the day was meant: Those who gave up their lives defending the country in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The Memorial Day event, held at 10 a.m., was organized by the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and American Legion posts of Ceres and included remarks by Mayor Javier Lopez, Supervisor Channce Condit, Undersheriff Micky LaBarbera, American Legion Commander Pete Samaniego and VFW Post Commander Freddy Morales.
Pastor Andy Heath gave the invocation in which he asked God to bless those in American Armed Forces and the families who mourn the loss of loved ones.
“Lord, we know that a country that does not honor its warriors will not be a country for long,” said Pastor Heath. He quoted from the book of John 15:13: “There is no greater love than to lay one’s life for others.” He later pronounced that “Memorial Day is a day to remember every day.”
Mayor Lopez said long before he was elected as mayor last year that he has always taken an interest in American history and an appreciation for those “who sacrificed to preserve our freedoms.”
“As the days go by and the seasons change, the one thing that will never change is the courage and impact that every single soldier contributed to our nation’s history,” said Lopez. The mayor said he will press for ways to honors those from Ceres serving in the military.
Supervisor Condit remembered those young people whose dreams were put on hold to serve their country, many who never returned. He mentioned the sacrifice of his uncle, Rudolph Melendez, a 23-year-old son of Mexican immigrants who was drafted into the Army in 1967. He was killed when his platoon was ambushed on Aug. 20, 1967. Melendez was the brother of his mother, Helen Filice Condit.
“My uncle’s story is like so many who willingly accepted call of duty, paying the ultimate price,” said Condit. “Our call of duty as civilians is to remember them, to honor them, and for those who came home, it is our turn to serve them.”
Undersheriff LaBarbera recalled the time in 2006 when he was asked to provide escort to three fallen Marines killed in combat. He recalled how the passengers somberly and respectfully stopped what they were doing inside the air terminal to watch as the casket was unloaded from the plane’s cargo hold into a hearse. On the drive back to Stanislaus County he noticed how various local police and fire departments parked atop overpasses and turn on overhead lights out of respect. It made an impression on him he will not forget.
Ceres Fire Battalion Chief Jeff Serpa said Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War and has become a reminder of “why we’re the land of the free and the home of the brave; a day to remind ourselves of selfless sacrifice of the men and women in uniform who have given their lives in service to our great nation so that we may enjoy our freedoms.”
Serpa said it’s also a day to teach children that freedom comes with a heavy price.
“While I am not serving in the military, what has remained is my undying gratitude for those who have served both the military and civilian,” said Serpa. “The willingness to place service above self, the willingness to sacrifice themselves so that others may live, this is what has made and will always make this a great country.”
American Legion Ceres Post 491 Commander Pete Samaniego gave a brief recap of the history of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which celebrates its 100th anniversary. He said the silent tomb speaks and reminds us what is expected of the nation.
“The past warns us to look into the future and make us certain that we will not face war again,” said Samaniego.
VFW Post Commander Freddy Morales said the day results in a flood of memory of his 1968 service in Vietnam as the 27th Marine Regiment. He emotionally recalled that a number of his buddies died in firefights.
“Let us honor the memory of the heroes who are no longer with us,” said Morales. “Our country is great and will always be great because of those who always step up when duty calls.”
Shawna Moore, past commander of the American Legion post, shared her favorite prayer as well as passages from Scripture.
After a 21-gun salute by the VFW honor guard, the program gave audience members a chance to place a small poppy into a memorial wreath and call out the name of a loved one who served the country in the Armed Forces. Some who came forward included Laurie Smith who lost her father, Senior Master Sgt. Albert C. Evans who died in a crash of a KC-135 during a training run at Castle Air Force Base in September 1979.
Councilwoman Linda Ryno came forward to honor a number of family members who have served in the military, including her brother who served in Vietnam. Her oldest grandson is now serving in the U.S. Navy.
One woman in the audience mentioned how World War II veteran from Ceres Tom Dimperio will celebrate his 102nd birthday in August.
Shawna Moore placed a poppy on the wreath to remember her great-great uncle William H. Barber who went down on a sunken USS Albacore on Nov. 7, 1944.
Bettye Welsh, 93, sat in the audience, remembering her late husband and World War II hero Gene Welsh.
Towards the end of the program, a “final roll call” was given of veterans from the area who in the last few years answered their final roll call. Names that were read of former VFW and American Legion post members in Ceres, followed by the pronouncement of “no answer” and the ringing of a bell, were: Don Dean, Salito Hernandez, Stephen Foster, Paul Lee Sr., Clifford Meyer, and Steven Scott.
Elected officials who were invited but unable to attend were Rep. Josh Harder who was represented by Briana Gonzales; and state Assemblyman Adam Gray who was represented by Lisa Mantarro Moore.