Veterans Day salutes all who serve
GUSTINE – The men and women who served their nation in defense of freedom in the past, and those who go in harm’s way today as members of the U.S. Military, were honored Monday in Veterans Day ceremonies in Gustine.
Community members, organizations, local leaders and dignitaries joined veterans for the annual tribute to those who have served – and are serving – their nation.
The annual observance included the traditional parade through downtown Gustine to the Veterans Memorial Hall, where a number of special touches added to the salute to the veterans.
Among them were two tables set by VFW Auxiliary Chaplain Judy Quinn. One, called “Boots for Freedom,” honors the sacrifice of those who serve. The other, a “Missing Man Table,” was in memory of the POW/MIAs. The program also included a roll call of local veterans who have passed away in the last year, and musical selections by Elzira Ferreira, Marsha Borrelli-Silva and Sharon Bettencourt.
One of the most moving moments, however, was a presentation by Quilts of Honor.
The non-profit group founded by former Gustine resident and Army veteran Gail Belmont to recognize veterans with quilts as a show of appreciation was on hand with a surprise of its own – presenting carefully crafted quilts to six veterans in attendance.
“We honor veterans who have never been thanked. We award quilts hand-made by volunteers,” Belmont told those in attendance before making the presentations. “I know there are many more in Gustine who deserve these quilts, and we will work on that.”
She proceeded to present quilts to Doral Gonzales, Riley Constant and Bill Mattos of Gustine, Richard Wood of Modesto, George Vargas of Newman and Louis Bickford of Coulterville (the day’s guest speaker).
Recipients said afterward they were deeply touched by the unexpected honor.
“I am speechless,” said Vargas, who came to the program thinking that he was bringing a fellow veteran to be honored. “It is always an honor to have another brother give you something like this.”
“This is one of the highest (honors) for me. I am still in shock,” said Mattos, adding that gesture of appreciation holds great meaning.
Gonzales echoed those sentiments.
She has seen friends receive the quilts but never thought she would be a recipient, Gonzales remarked.
“It will be cherished and handed down,” she said of her quilt.
The program also included remarks by Bickford, the national service officer for the California department of the VFW and also chairman of Native American Veteran Affairs. In his remarks, Bickford urged veterans to reach out to avail themselves of the benefits they have earned and the resources they have available to them.
Veterans also recognized Girls State delegates Alejandra Felix (Gustine High) and Brooke Rocha (Orestimba) and Boys State delegates Tony Lopes (GHS) and Steven Machado (OHS).
The program was conducted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Joseph G. Rose Post 7635; American Legion, Manuel M. Lopes Post 240; and their respective auxiliary units.