Lodi Mayor Alan Nakanishi, two local Army National Guard members and a host of others thanked veterans for their service overseas in front of an overflow crowd on Monday at the Lodi American Legion Hall.
“I just want to thank everybody for their service,” Sgt. Brandon Wright, a Lockeford resident who’s spent a tour of duty in Iraq and two more in Afghanistan.
Wright and Army Chief Warrant Officer 4 Greg Hartman were the guest speakers at Monday’s observance, which emcee Bill Selling estimated drew as many as 525 people. Nakanishi gave the keynote address.
“Freedom is not free,” said Hartman, who lives in Lodi. “Today is not about me and my family. It’s about all the men and women who served.”
Not only is he mayor and a former state Assemblyman, but Nakanishi was an Army major who led the surgical department at McDonald Army Hospital in Virginia. An ophthalmologist in Lodi and Stockton, the mayor noted that he was an eye surgeon in 1969 during the Vietnam War.
Nakanishi echoed President Barack Obama’s comments thanking veterans for risking their lives during World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The mayor also quoted President John F. Kennedy’s famous remark during his 1961 inaugural address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Hartman and Wright spent 10 months in Iraq in 2003. They were deployed to Afghanistan for a year in 2008 and again in 2010. Wright is now a captain and investigator for the Mokelumne Rural Fire Protection District in Lockeford.
As California National Guardsmen, Hartman and Wright also conducted emergency evacuations and issued supplies during several disasters, including the Northridge earthquake in 1994, Los Angeles riots and flooding at Big Sur and Sonoma County.
Hartman is a maintenance test helicopter pilot with the National Guard, manning 3,800 flight hours.
Wright, an 18-year National Guard veteran, is a flight engineer.
State Legion Cmdr. Ken Kramlich, a Lodi post member, gave a stirring tribute to soldiers who were prisoners of war and missing in action. Kramlich noted that 78,000 World War II soldiers remain unaccounted for, 8,100 more from the Korean War were POWs or missing in action, 120, were captured or missing during the Cold War, 1,810 from the Vietnam War and three from the Gulf War.
Kramlich showed a small dinner table, set for one person, that symbolizes the plight of the POWs and MIAs.
“The chair is empty,” he said. “Our comrades are missing.”
The single setting signifies the frailty of a prisoner being alone. A red ribbon on the table showed the determination to get a proper accounting for those not among us. A single rose symbolizes the blood the soldiers shed, a lemon slice on the bread plate symbolizes the soldiers’ bitter fate and a salt shaker indicates the tears that were shed.
Other participants at Monday’s program include:
- Chaplain Chad Donley, who gave the invocation and benediction.
- Lodi Post 22 Color Guard.
- Tammy Hulme from Lodi Girl Scout Service Unit 182.
- Audie Silber’s and Dottie Phelps’ third and fourth-grade students from Lodi Seventh-Day Adventist School, who sang the national anthem.
- Erica and Erin Anderson, who sang “God Bless America.”
- A music medley by the Ham Lane Church of Christ praise team.
- Military songs by the Lodi Community Band, conducted by Art Holton.
- “Taps,” performed by Fred McKendry of the Lodi Community Band.
Contact reporter Ross Farrow at email@example.com.