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June 3, 2009 > Memorial Day at Charles F. Kennedy Park

Memorial Day at Charles F. Kennedy Park

By Simon Wong

Acts of remembrance took place across the nation on May 25, Memorial Day 2009, to honor the servicemen and women who gave their lives, those fortunate to have returned home and those serving our country.

Union City resident and Korean War veteran Jess Martinez belongs to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Paul E. Rivers Post #7906. He organized a well-attended commemoration service in Kennedy Park, Decoto Rd. His grand-daughter Katy Gowin led the Pledge of Allegiance.

Most monuments to servicemen bear the names of the fallen but Union City has a lasting memorial to all the local men and women who served in WWII.

Ramon K. Pagan, father of Judy Preciado and Gloria Pacheco, long-time volunteers in Union City, commissioned a granite cenotaph paid for by contributions from the parents of the men and women who served from 1941-45. Fundraising began in 1945 and the monument was dedicated on Nov 10, 1946. Rather than record an honor roll of only those who died, Pagan had the foresight to set in stone the names of all who served. A star appears beside the names of those who did not return.

According to records supplied by monumental stonemasons A. Gomes Bras, now Bras & Mattos, parents donated between $1 and $50. Most managed to afford $10 or $20. Peter Decoto generously gave $50. Pagan had the community's support given the extensive list of donors. The monument cost $2,000.

Originally located on 4th and H Streets, the monument was moved to Kennedy Park in the 1970s where it could be appreciated by more people and where it would be more secure.

Of the 239 names on the monument, 19 veterans survive. Santos Alvarez Jr (trumpeter with the USS Hornet Band), David Berrios, Joe Ferrario, John Garcia, Paul Garcia, Jesse Orozco, Paul Pagan (brother of Judy Preciado and Gloria Pacheco), Harold Torquemada, Anthony Williams and Manuel Fuentes attended the ceremony. Harold Ariza, Davis Arribas, Jesse Corra, Frank Gallegos, Gregory Garcia, Galo Gonzales, Emilio Gudino, Joe Sanchez and John Sanchez were absent due to failing health.

Lori Silva and Tom Maderos generously donated the American Flag floral arrangement and wreath, respectively. The floral tributes were escorted to the memorial by the VFW Paul E. Rivers Post #7906 Color Guard consisting of Pete Cervantez, Roberto Zamora and Dan Canales.

The Last Post was sounded by Juan Salinas, a James Logan High School senior and one of the school's most accomplished musicians. "He's an excellent trumpeter," remarked Santos Alvarez.

"We should strive to educate future generations, not only of the horrors of war, but give them a better understanding of what America is all about," said Martinez. "When our freedoms are threatened, we must answer this call like many young men and women throughout our history. They went willingly into harm's way for our country, some never to return. This is why we must take a moment on this day to remember.

"These monuments all vary in physical size but their messages are of equal importance. Big or small, they teach us about the ideals that unite us in our diversity, values that sustained us in times of trial and the dreams that have inspired successive generations. Ordinary Americans have performed extraordinary acts of service,' continued Martinez.

Many feel that the significance of Memorial Day has been lost. For many it is a day off work or merely part of a long weekend since the occasion was moved from May 30 to the last Monday in May.

Leaders of the veterans' community ask all Americans to remember and want young people to understand that liberty comes at a price. Sacrifice is meaningless without remembrance.

According to Martinez, it is refreshing to see that most Americans have separated the Iraq War from the warrior. This was not so with the Korean and Vietnam Wars which the public did not support; veterans were perceived incorrectly as the culprits responsible for American involvement in those foreign wars. The distinction between political masters and military service is important to those in uniform.

"Younger veterans need to step forward to continue the tradition of remembrance and succeed their predecessors. With American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is every reason to commemorate those who have given their lives and those who serve our country," explained Martinez.

"I'm so glad that all my nieces, nephews and their children are here today. I informed them their grandfather and the monument he and other parents erected would also be remembered by Jess," said Judy Preciado appreciatively.

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