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Turlock salutes its veterans
Vietnam vets highlighted at city ceremony
Veterans Day 1
Veteran Ron Campbell is recognized by the crowd at the Turlock Veteran's Day ceremony held Friday in Central Park. - photo by ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal

Residents and veterans gathered in Turlock’s Central Park Friday morning, honoring the city’s community members who have bravely served in the United States military with a special Veteran’s Day ceremony.

“It’s an honor and privilege to be a part of this, because we represent a lot of veterans that don’t come out or aren’t able to come out,” said Turlock Honor Guard member Sandy Cantu.

Friday’s ceremony kicked off with a Presentation of Colors by the Honor Guard, followed by the firing of 11 shots into the air in recognition of the end of World War I which stopped during the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918.  An armed forces medley was played, celebrating the members of the different branches of military present at the event, including the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Air Force and Marines. The crowd in attendance was also treated to performances of patriotic songs by the Turlock High School band.

Stanislaus County District 2 Supervisor Vito Chiesa was the event’s keynote speaker, and called on the crowd to remember the plight of veterans who come home from war.

“It’s not a holiday,” said Chiesa. “It’s a day to celebrate our veterans and those who have sacrificed.”

There are about 27,000 veterans living in Stanislaus County, and Chiesa emphasized the importance of providing them with help they need but often don’t receive, including the issue of homeless veterans, mental illness, job training and physical health problems.

Several veterans also spoke at the event, including Vietnam veterans Sil Manente and Tracy Sunde and Veterans of Foreign Wars member Wardee “Gunner” Bruce.

Manente came home from serving in the Vietnam War to a cold reception, as most Vietnam veterans did, due to the controversy surrounding the conflict. He expressed to the crowd that veterans should never be ignored, including the “invisible” veteran, referring to females who have served and are often overlooked, and the “unsung” veterans, or families of those who are deployed overseas.

“A lot of people forget what Veteran’s Day is about,” said Manente. “The word ‘veterans’ applies to so many different people…and that’s what I’m trying to promote out here today.”

A patch with the number 22 adorned Manente’s left arm, representing the 22 veterans that commit suicide daily.

“It’s something near to my heart, because I have had friends that have committed suicide,” said Manente, who called for more aid for those suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. “A lot of people see it as a weakness – it’s not a weakness, it’s a true feat of strength.”

Manente was a tunnel rat in the Army during the Vietnam War, and received the Bronze Star and the Commendation Medal for bravery thanks to his heroic actions which saved the lives of his comrades. He also received the Purple Heart as a result of being shot during the war.

“We all have veterans that we think of – some who are still with us and some who have passed away,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth, remembering his World War II veteran grandfather and Vietnam War veteran uncle, as well as his uncle in attendance who served in the Korean War.

There are currently about 60 Turlock residents actively serving in the military, said Soiseth, and the City plans to hang banners along Countryside Drive’s lampposts with each service member's name and face. The Mayor also told the crowd that the City is challenging Turlock residents to hang 1,000 more American flags than usual throughout the city, whether it be at home, businesses or even on cars.

“We’re going to make sure we have at least 1,000 more flags in one year to honor our veterans,” said Soiseth.