With flags waving in a strong wind, Merced Sunrise Rotary President Eric Moore welcomed residents from across Merced County to the ninth annual Field of Honor and opening ceremonies at Merced College on Sunday.
The Field of Honor highlights the service and sacrifice of local military veterans with a vast display of American flags — hundreds and hundreds of them placed by local residents across the campus lawn at the corner of Yosemite Avenue and M Street.
“We are always honored to partner with the Sunrise Rotary to provide this beautiful symbolic tribute to those who have served and continue to serve,” said Chris Vitelli, the president of Merced College. “[The Field of Honor] also represents opportunities because Merced College is a place where veterans are welcome. We have an environment that provides supportive services and welcoming facilities and staff, and we push to welcome veterans onto our campus.”
Vitelli emphasized that Merced College recognizes the commitment veterans have made.
“In return we repay our gratitude by providing unparalleled services and programs to help them succeed with a college education,” he said. “Many of our veterans who are coming back from combat over the last 20 plus years are those who have no family, or those who might need counseling, or a quiet place to study, or a place to deescalate, or a place that they can sit down with a veteran who understands what they’re going through. In fact because of that we were one of the first community colleges in the state of California to establish a dedicated veterans resource center. Thanks to the generous donation of the Gallo Family Foundation several years ago, we opened up the First Lieutenant Peter J Gallo Veterans Resource Center.”
Merced Mayor Matthew Serratto also addressed those in attendance, and thanked service members for their dedication to helping the country move forward.
“So often when times are divided and times are tough, you guys provide the light, and provide something that we can all rally around and share and get behind,” the mayor said. “So for being something that is unifying and brings everyone together, thank you for that. Thank you for your service to this world. If you look at this last century, and you look at how much good the United States has done in this world — how positive that role has been — you guys are right in the middle of that.”
Mayor Serratto went on to point out the continued positive impact that many veterans continue to have on local communities. “Thank you, and I see this more and more in the work I do. Thank you for your service to this community. I find with the more work I do, the more volunteers service we’re doing, the more we’re doing to try and move this city forward, it’s always veterans who step up and constantly impress me with their service, with their dedication, their ability to get a dirty job done.”
Serratto singled out two local veterans — “Gustavo and Connie” — of the Disabled American Veterans group who recently went beyond the call of duty to clean up a mess of paint and debris inside a creek near a city park and playground.
Ed Benes, the past commander of the American Legion Post 83, made his way to the podium, and reflected on his time in the military — receiving his draft notice, returning home from Vietnam, starting flight school, landing a jet on an aircraft for the first time, experiencing the birth of his children, retiring from the Marines, and entering into a civilian job.
Benes also highlighted a local church service he attended some years after joining the armed services.
“They asked all of the veterans to please stand to be acknowledged, and that was the first time that I had been thanked for my military service in 24 years,” he recalled. “It was very emotional for me, and it had been all that time.”
Benes went on to say that since that day in 1992 he has been thanked for his service many times, and that it never gets old.
“Thank you for saying that, and as I look across this field of red, white and blue, I’m so grateful to all of those people who had a part in putting this tribute together. For saying thank you to not only me, but all of the other veterans in our community who never received a thank you for their service, or who never returned at all.”
Benes ended by saying that he would like to say “Thank you to all those who came here today, to the Sunrise Rotary for making this happen, to all those who honored their loved ones with a flag on the Field of Honor, and their service and sacrifice of those who followed our colors in peacetime and battle, whenever and wherever called. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
As the ceremony came to a close, residents were invited to make their way onto the Field of Honor and through the dozens of rows of flags that had been placed. Each flag bears the name of a service member being honored. The Field of Honor will be staffed 1 p.m. – 6 p.m., but it will remain open 24 hours, with a closing ceremony held on Nov. 13 at 2 p.m.