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July 12, 2011 > Special Life Events: Veteran of the Year

Special Life Events: Veteran of the Year

Michael L. Emerson, a life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legion, Marine Corps League and Disabled American Veterans attended a special luncheon in Sacramento on Wednesday, June 22, 2011, to receive the California State Legislature Assembly 20th District's 2011 Veteran of the Year award from Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski.

He also received a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition from Congresswoman Barbara Lee "in recognition of outstanding and invaluable service to the community."

Emerson is the oldest of eight children from French/German parents who emigrated from Western Europe. He grew up in the suburbs of Washington DC in the towns of Silver Spring, Kensington and Wheaton, Maryland where he graduated from Wheaton High School in 1979, aged only 16. He studied in Paris, France, for a year and is still able to speak near-fluent French.

Aged 19, he enlisted as an infantryman in the US Marine Corps and eventually qualified as a Mortarman, Machine Gunner and Water Safety Survival Instructor. He served overseas on three deployments and travelled widely as a civilian. Having visited 147 countries, it is easier for him to list the countries he has not visited than to say where he has been.

His final overseas deployment, while on active duty, was with UNITAS/WATC XXVI (United American States/West African Training Cruise 26) aboard USS Saginaw. He went to the Caribbean, Central and South America to cross-train with allies in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Columbia, Panama, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil. While in Panama, he received "The Order of the Ditch" which is a certificate for marching approximately 42 miles across land from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the Panama Canal.

While on the UNITAS/WATC XXVI cruise, Emerson used his French speaking skills to translate for the Navy and Marine Officers, Staff NCOs and some of the ambassadors of the various countries visited. He was awarded a Certificate of Commendation from Rear Admiral R.C. Ustick for the "Superior Performance" of his translation duties.

Emerson left active duty in 1986, settled in the San Francisco Bay Area, joined the USMC active reserves in Alameda and resides in the Hayward Hills. He was assigned to Military Intelligence because of his linguistic ability and trained as a French interrogator and translator with the 30th ITT (Interrogation Translation Team).

He was officially recalled to active duty to participate in Operation Desert Shield/Storm and received a Certificate of Commendation from Colonel W.J. Wood for his "Superior Performance of Duty" during the Desert Storm/Persian Gulf War.

Emerson was awarded eight medals and five additional service ribbons while he served in the US Marine Corps.

Besides being a life member of several veterans' organizations, he also belongs to Operation MOMs, which collects, packs and mails donations of toiletries and snack foods to troops serving overseas. He also a charter/founding member and past president of the Student Veterans Organization (SVO) at California State University, East Bay in Hayward. Emerson is a member of the VFW Post #9601 and the American Legion Post #649 in Castro Valley and has been an active member of the VFW Honor Guard in Alameda County for several years.

Since leaving active duty, he has worked in the real estate industry and electronics manufacturing industry and is currently a Professional Trustee establishing both Personal living trusts and irrevocable business trusts for individuals and businesses.

Locally, Emerson is probably best-known as the originator, creator, project manager and fundraiser for the Flight 93 Memorial, Union City, which honors the heroes of 9/11 and was dedicated in December 2007. Visit

When the Flight 93 Memorial was completed, the National Park Foundation, a division of the National Park Service, and the Flight 93 Family Organization invited Emerson to be part of a special National Steering Committee to help build the National Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Phase I will be dedicated on September 10, followed by a commemoration service the next day.

Emerson is also working on the Castro Valley Veterans Memorial which will honor veterans of all branches of the military. With the help of other veterans in VFW Post #9601, businesses, community organizations and the public, the goal is to complete and dedicate the Memorial on Veterans Day, November 2011. Visit

"I'm very honored to have received this award. As a proud American and Marine Corps veteran, I do whatever I can to be part of, participate in, and serve my local and veteran communities," stated Emerson. "It's nice to be recognized and appreciated for the projects and activities that I develop and in which I participate. I shall continue to volunteer and serve for the benefit of my community and fellow veterans."

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