Turlock is a patriotic town, and that patriotism is displayed by sights like the 20 banners flying over Countryside Drive, which honor citizens currently serving our country, and the 1,072 American flags registered at residences around the city as part of Mayor Gary Soiseth’s 1,000 Flags Initiative. That being said, it’s no surprise that Friday’s annual Veterans Day Ceremony at Central Park was a grand affair, honoring Turlock’s heroes that have served in the country’s armed forces.
Retired Marine and Turlock resident Loren Vincent inspired the Mayor’s challenge for the city to fly 1,000 flags throughout town before Veterans Day after an event in 2015, when Vincent found his own American flag burned down into an almost-unrecognizable heap in front of his residence.
At Friday’s ceremony, Vincent told the crowd that the burning of his flag brought unexpected support from all across the nation, and in the years since, other Marines and veterans have reached out to show encouragement. Soiseth was compelled to help make Turlock a more patriotic place after the incident, eventually establishing the 1,000 Flags Initiative.
“I told the mayor I was about to give up on getting anything done, but I remembered politicians have two speeds: slow and slower,” Vincent joked. “Thank you, Mayor.”
“I am very proud of this community,” said Soiseth, as the city reached 1,000 registered flags just before the Veterans Day deadline. “Thank you for flying your flags.”
Soiseth also pointed out that the City’s other patriotic project, the Active Military Banner Program, began with just 13 spots available, but was expanded to 20 spots thanks to public support. Now, he said, there is already a waitlist for next year’s set of banners, which will fly in Monte Vista Crossings and feature locals who are actively serving in the U.S. military.
“We started with 13 spots because we had 13 poles, and we wondered if we would fill those up. We’ve now expanded to 20 poles, and there’s already a waitlist for next year,” said Soiseth.
Veterans of the U.S. Army, Navy, Coast guard and Marine Corps were in attendance at the ceremony, and members of each respective military branch were honored during the Armed Forces Medley. Army veteran Pieter Hoex stood during “The Army Goes Rolling Along,” and appreciated the recognition, he said.
Hoex served during the Vietnam War in Berlin, he said, and his battle group passed through East Berlin as the wall was being built.
“I immigrated here from Holland in 1960 and joined the Army four months later,” he said. “Even though I was a non-citizen, I was happy to serve.”
Friday’s Veterans Day ceremony held extra significance for Turlock High School NJROTC instructor and retired Lieutenant Commander of the U.S. Navy Carlos Montanez, whose son had left to serve in the Navy just the day before. Service members like his son and the students he teaches are the future of U.S. military, said Montanez, made evident by their decisions to serve.
Six of the 11 students that graduated from the THS NJROTC program in May are now either actively serving or preparing to serve, he added.
“What do I think about the future of armed service in our country? It’s really hinged on service,” said Montanez. “Six years ago, I didn’t know anything about my son’s future. He was playing video games…getting out of his chores. One thing my wife and I instilled in him was service…and that’s the same theme I focus on with NJROTC students.”
While ceremonies and a simple “thank you” are just some ways we can thank our veterans, Congressman Jeff Denham stressed that there is still much to be done to help veterans once they are no longer serving, whether it be increasing their access to healthcare, making the benefits process easier to navigate and providing mental health services to those who need it upon returning.
“Our government needs to always answer the call to fulfill the promises that were made, and as we have different challenges, different battlefields in different countries across the globe as we continue to defend this great experiment that we call our democracy, we need to make sure that our government always fulfills their promises that it’s made to our veterans,” said Denham. “The thing I love about Veteran’s Day is that we always recognize those who have served. It gives us one day out of the year to recognize those in the community and to show a great deal of patriotism. But, the thing I like most – especially in a community like this – is recognizing our veteran’s every day.”