Westside remembers its fallen heroes

The Modesto BeeMay 30, 2014 

Mayor Mike Villalta is asking for the public’s help in creating a memorial for fallen soldiers.

He made his plea at Memorial Day commemorations at Los Banos Cemetery District on Monday and at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella on Sunday.

A group of Los Banos High School students was tasked with finding biographical information for 15 soldiers from Los Banos killed in action, and the mayor said the students have accomplished their goal.

But the organizers of the memorial have not found photographs for three of the soldiers. The photographs will be used as part of the memorial, which will be located at Los Banos City Hall.

Villalta asked for the public’s help in finding information that will help locate the needed photos. He hopes to dedicate the memorial a year from now and asked anyone with photos or information to call Los Banos City Hall.

“It’s up to us to honor these men and keep the memory of their existence on this earth alive,” the mayor told audiences.

The ceremony was attended by the members of the local VFW and American Legion and has become a longstanding tradition in the city. On Friday, veterans visited Los Banos’ elementary schools and led flag raises ceremonies as part of the Memorial Day Weekend festivities.

Some view Memorial Day as the unofficial start of summer and spend the holiday weekend barbecuing, relaxing by a pool or shopping.

Anita Hanson believes it’s much more than that, even though she says recent news reports suggest many have a distant disconnect with those who serve in the military. She says some think Memorial Day has lost its meaning.

“I disagree,” Hanson said to a few hundred people gathered at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella on Sunday. “The fact that you’re here today shows me you care.”

Hanson, director of the national Veterans Memorial Programs Service, was the featured speaker at the national cemetery’s annual ceremony.

She said the holiday should be a time to make sure military servicemen and women are cared for when they return home. “We must not forget the living,” Hanson told the audience.

For those who have died, Hanson said, 18 new national cemeteries will be created by the end of this decade. That will give 20 million veterans the option of being laid to rest at a national cemetery within 70 miles of their home, she said.

More than 38,000 veterans have been laid to rest at the national cemetery in Santa Nella. Cynthia Nunez, acting director of the cemetery, said the annual ceremony is a time to pause and recognize those who have made the “ultimate sacrifice” while serving their country.

The ceremony included a rifle salute and a rendition of taps by the California State Honor Guard. Members of the Blue Star Mothers and Gold Star Mothers and Wives participated in the wreath presentation.

Even a technical mishap couldn’t dampen the patriotic spirit. Tim Weimer, pastor at First Baptist Church of Newman, sang the national anthem. He didn’t turn on his microphone, so the audience could barely hear his voice.

Weimer didn’t realize his microphone was off until the audience decided to help him out. Halfway through the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the audience joined him singing. The pastor said he was touched by the spontaneous group effort.

“I thought it was wonderful,” Weimer said after the ceremony. “It shows their patriotism and their love for their country.”

The microphone was working fine for Weimer later in the ceremony when he belted out “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, spoke at the ceremony about the need to do more for veterans. He mentioned news in recent months of problems providing services.

“They are our heroes,” Costa said. “Their sacrifice and bravery is what America is all about.”

Reporter Corey Pride contributed to this article.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or (209) 578-2394.

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