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Duarte talks to Turlock crowd about honoring those who ‘fight so bravely on the field’
Memorial Day 1
Bob Johns plays “Taps” during the Memorial Day ceremony held Monday at Turlock Memorial Park in honor of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice (Photo by Christian Santos).

Rep. John Duarte (R-Hughson) arrived at Turlock Memorial Park with just minutes to spare before the start of Monday’s Memorial Day festivities.

Like much of the area’s high school students at this time of year, Duarte needed to do some last-minute cramming before giving his speech.

His staff inserted a new speech into his portfolio — a different version than the one he delivered the day before at San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella — and the first-term congressman barely had time to review it.

“My staff did a great job,” said Duarte. “I always take what I’m given and then try to do a little something of my own with it.”

Memorial Day 2
Local veterans stand during the “Armed Forces Medley" (Photo by Christian Santos).

Duarte spoke to an attentive red-white-and-blue-clad crowd about President James A. Garfield, who delivered a speech at Arlington National Cemetery on the very first Memorial Day in 1868, then known as Decoration Day.

Garfield, a former Union Army general and a sitting Ohio congressman, delivered an address, after which 5,000 participants helped to decorate the graves of the more than 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers who were buried there.

After World War I, it became an occasion for honoring those who died in all of America’s wars and was established as a national holiday throughout the U.S.

“You’ve got to realize how unique the American soldier is,” said Duarte, whose father served in the U.S. Army. “Soldiers fight when they have something to fight for. Our soldiers are so vested in the march of freedom at home and abroad. It’s inspiring and we should take special note on Memorial Day — and on Veterans Day — to make sure we recognize what drives these folks to fight so bravely on the field.”

Duarte was one of a handful of speakers during a crisp 38-minute ceremony that started with an invocation from chaplain Robert Todd of Turlock’s American League Post 88, followed by remarks from Post 88 commander Carl Lasiter. 

The Hilmar Community Band then performed the Armed Forces Medley, with members of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard standing to be honored when their branch’s song was played.

Memorial Day 3
Congressman John Duarte speaks at Monday’s ceremony (Photo by Christian Santos).

Duarte then gave his remarks, followed by Stanislaus County District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa, and then Turlock police chief Jason Hedden.

They were followed by pastor Rob Monroe of Calvary Chapel Turlock, who was the keynote speaker. The former U.S. Marine pilot told the crowd about growing up in Atwater, one mile from Castle Air Force Base, and hearing the constant rumbling overhead of B-52s and KC-135s.

“I was raised in a very middle-class family,” said Monroe, who graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1987. “We were not poor, but we did not have a lot of extra spending money. We went out to eat maybe once or twice, maybe three times, a year. It was a really big deal for our family to go out and eat.

“Growing up, I remember watching these guys from Castle Air Force Base wearing flight suits just casually going out to eat. So, in my young mind, I looked at these guys and thought, ‘They must have the greatest job in the entire world. You get to fly airplanes, you get to wear a cool flight suit, and you get to go out to a restaurant just for fun. That’s what I want to do.’ So, I set my sights.”

Monroe went on to talk about how Memorial Day touches his family personally. His grandparents were married as teenagers and soon after his grandfather was drafted into the U.S. Army. He was killed in July of 1944 after surviving the D-Day invasion a month earlier.

“That’s what makes this day so absolutely powerful and memorial,” said Monroe. “We set aside a date to remember the great sacrifices of the men and the women who were willing to lay down their lives for our freedom.”

The ceremony concluded with a 21-gun salute and the Hilmar Community Band playing “America the Beautiful.” Guests were then invited by Lasiter to attend a gathering at the American Legion hall at 75 Bothun Rd., in Turlock.