For the first time since 2019, the Turlock community gathered for a Memorial Day service at the city’s cemetery on Monday to honor those who sacrificed their lives while serving their country.
The annual event, co-hosted by Turlock’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars post, was cancelled due to the pandemic last year, with a small demonstration taking place instead of the typical crowd that gathers at Turlock Memorial Park each year. As COVID restrictions begin to lift this year, plenty of people showed up on Monday for a morning of remembrance under the sun which included speeches by representatives from both veterans associations as well as elected officials like Sheriff Jeff Dirkse, Stanislaus County Supervisor Vito Chiesa, Turlock Mayor Amy Bublak, Assemblyman Heath Flora and Congressman Josh Harder.
“The book of John in the Bible tells us that there is no greater love than one who lays down his life for a friend, but those who we are celebrating and remembering today didn’t just lay down their lives for our friends and family, they laid down their lives for total strangers,” Harder said of the over one million soldiers who have died in service to America.
“They gave up their tomorrows for our todays,” American Legion Commander Carl Lassiter said. “My one challenge to you today is when you leave here, go tell a young person about what Memorial Day really means.”
Lassiter said in addition to those lives lost, he honors the life of Sgt. 1st Class Chad Gonsalves each year — a Turlock native who served with the Green Berets and was killed in action in Afghanistan on Feb. 13, 2006, by a roadside bomb. He was just 31 when he died, leaving behind his wife, a young son and twin infants.
Gonsalves’ mother, Marsha Gonsalves, was in attendance during Monday’s service and many thanked the Gold Star parent for her son’s sacrifice. As she placed a poppy in memory of her son, she shared that Chad’s children are now ages 17 and 19.
Flora told Marsha that as a father of two, he could not begin to imagine the pain that comes with losing a child. He shared the story of his former Assembly colleague, Dante Acosta, whose son Rudy was also killed in action in Afghanistan.
“From that moment on, Memorial Day took on a very different meaning to me...As a parent, to be able to understand that sacrifice, that they didn’t come home for our country — Marsha, we can’t say thank you enough from a community perspective, from a country perspective. We can’t stand in front of you today and pretend we know what it feels like,” Flora said.
West Point graduate Dirkse, whose son is currently also attending the military academy, is a U.S. Army veteran who served as a company commander in Iraq. The day is personal for him as well, he explained, as five of his soldiers were killed in action in 2005.
“I think of them almost every day, more so today,” Dirkse said. “...They were a microcosm of America — white, black, Hispanic, Asian. They represented everything and everyone in our country. They came from various socioeconomic backgrounds, but they were all there for one purpose and that was to serve America.
“They believed in America, and more importantly, they believed in the idea of America.”