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7,000 crosses turn park into hallowed ground
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God and country.
The mere mention of the two words together – or even separately – in some corners of our society will get the eyes rolling and cynicism flowing.
If Mike Dillman has anything to say about it, that won’t happen here.
Dillman is pastor of The Place of Refuge in Manteca. He is also a Vietnam War veteran. He also believes in America.
He’s a die-in-the-wool, true blue American who is proud of his service to country and that of others who holds true to his faith. Before the Greek chorus that is convinced America is about to go the way of the Roman Empire cues up the laughter, Dillman isn’t an aberration.
He reflects the values of the vast majority of citizens who firmly believe in the grand experiment known as the United States of America that debuted 237 years ago. Most of us have faith in a greater being although it is in different shades of the spectrum. And to make sure freedoms and faith stand against tyranny it unfortunately requires the spilling of blood. Freedom of speech and freedom of religion aren’t free.
The men and women who gave some or who gave all to help secure those freedoms are on par with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, John Madison and their peers. That’s because philosophers, idealists, and generals aren’t the ones that secure freedoms that are choked off by tyrants. It is the soldier whose blood gave life to the seeds of democracy and has allowed the frail freedoms outlined eloquently in the Constitution to survive and grow for more than two centuries.
Most of us tend to forget the role of the citizen soldier in securing what we have today, whether it is our freedom or economic bounty.
It is why 10 years ago Dillman rallied the troops – many who have never served – to cobble together a tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice and those who served with them. Dillman did not want the men and women who served in the Global War on Terror returning to an ungrateful nation. Nor did he want veterans and the sacrifice they made forgotten.
Thus the Memorial Weekend Commemoration was born.
Yes, there have always been Memorial Day celebrations. They are organized by men and women who have been there. For the most part are attended by those directly touched by the price of war.
The commemoration complements traditional Memorial Day efforts by bringing a larger cross-section of the community together in both solemn reflection and the celebration of the very freedoms that the blood of soldiers have secured since the dawn of the republic.
Amid the ceremonies, music, car show, fun run, bounce houses, military aircraft and fireworks are the 7,000 poignant reminders of why we are free.
Some 7,000 simple white crosses – one for each American who has fallen in the Global War on Terror – will convert grass where kids play soccer into hallowed ground. The crosses will surround the Traveling Tribute with the names of those killed inscribed on panels along with 61 large photos of the fallen from the Northern San Joaquin Valley.
It is those crosses that jar most that see them rising from lush grass where on every other weekend of the year the sound of laughing and shouting children fills the air.
Children running freely and enjoying life to the fullest is a fitting tribute to the legacy of the fallen.
Dillman made that point during a previous Memorial Weekend Commemoration dedication ceremony for a panel on the Traveling Tribute when the sound of children playing on nearby playground equipment provided background noise.
Dillman stopped his remarks and gestured toward the children, commenting it was an appropriate noise on such a day during such an occasion as they – the children – are what it was all about.
Indeed, spending even a few minutes at Manteca's Woodward Park this weekend whether it is on Sunday when the park is teeming with Memorial Weekend activities or on Saturday and Monday when it is just the crosses and the Traveling Tribute, will make anyone realize how much they owe to those who have worn – and wear today – the uniform of this country.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Journal or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209-249-3519.