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Students honor local veterans
• Virginia Parks holds schoolwide assembly for Veterans’ Day honors
Dante Galindo
Dante Galindo, who served eight years in the Marine Corps with an attack helicopter squadron, held his son as he entered the Virginia Parks Elementary School cafeteria during a Veteran’s Day observance. The event was held Thursday morning and is an annual tradition - photo by Jeff Benziger

Local veterans who once wore the uniform and now are working in the private sector or retired felt honored during a patriotic themed assembly hosted Thursday morning at Virginia Parks Elementary School in celebration of Veterans Day.

Children at the school honored dads, grandfathers, grandfathers and uncles of classmates during a special schoolwide assembly organized by teacher Janet Stanhope in the gym.

“We want to say thank you for giving of your time, your courage for our country and our freedoms,” Stanhope told the veterans. “We hope that today you can enjoy this celebration and honor of you. The children are so, so excited and proud to have you here.”

Jonathan Abraham, a lifelong Ceres resident and graduate of Ceres High School, came at the invitation of daughter Layla Abraham. Abraham served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1999 to 2013 and participated in Operation Enduring Freedom. Today he is a manager of the intensive care unit at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton.

“This is probably my eleventh time coming here,” said Abraham. “It’s great. It’s nice that they do this for the veterans.”

He is a firm believer that military service is beneficial to many young people.

“I didn’t want to go to college so I’m like, ‘You know what? I’ll go into the military.’ Mom loved that one. It was the best move I think I could ever make. It made me mature and made me who I am today. I’m a nurse manager. I have two degrees, I’m working on my master’s soon – all paid for by the military. It’s like I tell me daughter, it’s the best thing you can ever do. I’m trying to talk her into it.”

Jonathan Abraham
Ceres veteran Jonathan Abraham with daughter Layla at V. Parks School. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Army veteran Jim Casey was invited by granddaughter Mary Casey, 11, a sixth-grader at the school. Casey served during the Vietnam War from 1968 and 1969.

This was the third year that Daniel Franco of Ceres was invited by grandson, Khoury Franco. Dan served in the Army from 1974 to 1976.

After the presentation of colors by the American Legion Color Guard, Student Body President Katie Uribe led the flag salute student and Giovanna Zarate sang the National Anthem and students sang numerous enthusiastic renditions of patriotic songs, including “This Land is Your Land,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag,” and “God Bless America.”

Robert Gaona
Robert Gaona, an Army combat veteran who has four kids at Virginia Parks School. - photo by Jeff Benziger
VP student council
Student Council officers read a statement explaining how Veteran’s Day came about after World War I. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Members of the American Legion Honor Guard fired a 21-gun salute just outside the gym like they fire at the funerals of fallen veterans. The three rapid volleys of gunfire excited the students who could hear the reports through the open door. 

Other veterans who attended were Walt Butler, who served in the Navy aboard the USS Hornet from 1966 to 1968 and who is commander of the Ceres American Legion post; Anthony Gutierrez, who served 1972 to 1975 in Berlin, Germany; Glen Lewis who served in the Navy aboard the USS King from 1969 to 1972; Josh Merrill, a U.S. Army medic for seven years; Robert Gaona, an Army combat veteran who has four kids at the school; Christopher Green who was in the Army Special Forces based in Fort Lewis, Wash., and served seven years; Paula Diaz who in the Army Reserves who served in Operation Enduring Freedom; Aaron Rose who served in the Air Force from 1987 to 1992; Joshua Ernest, who served in the Marine Corps from 1999 to 2005 during Operation Enduring Freedom; Robert Grijalua who was the Army’s Third Range Battalion from 1984 to 1987; Steven Hawthorne who rode in Army tanks; Daniel Castille, a four-year Marine Corp veteran from 1985 to 1989; David Borquez, who served in the Air Force from 1983 to 1987; Ken Broward, a Navy submarine veteran from 1992-96; Daniel Alameda who served in the Navy from 1972 to 1978 aboard the USS Saratoga; Ron Parker who served as a high speed Morris Code operator and instructor in the Army from 1976 to 1980; James Casey, is a Vietnam War veteran from 1968 and 1969; Ronaldo Mendez, who was a U.S. Army paratrooper from 1962 to 1965; Dante Galindo, who served eight years in the Marine Corps with an attack helicopter squadron; Yolanda Whited, who spent four years in the Army as a supervising secretary from 1989 to 1993; Roy Santiago, who served in the Marines from 1992 to 1996 and served as a radio chief; and Steve Whitney, who was a Marines instructor at El Toro Marine Base during Vietnam.

Roberta Elliott and Martha Griffith represented the Blue Star Moms. Elliott’s son served in the Coast Guard and her dad served as a Marine during World War II. She said her group sends packages to military service personnel to show Americans at home care.

Martha Griffith said her father and two brothers were in the Air Force and that she was born at Port Hueneme. Her son is a Purple Heart hero who was disabled in 2009 when his vehicle struck an improvised explosive device.

“He’s 270 percent disabled but we’re lucky that he’s alive,” Griffith told the students.

She runs a non-profit organization, Protecting Soldiers’ Rights and supports Wounded Warriors and helps homeless veterans with housing and get them to take advantage of the G.I. Bill to continue their education.

Stanhope said her son served in the Army and her father served in the Navy.

Students also brought pictures and posters of service personnel who were unable to attend or who have passed away.

Student Council officers read a statement explaining how Veteran’s Day came about after World War I. 

Giovanna Zarate
Giovanna Zarate sang the National Anthem at Virginia Parks Elementary School veterans obervance. - photo by Jeff Benziger