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Posted: Saturday, November 12, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 6:47 am, Sat Nov 12, 2011.

A girl from Lodi Seventh-day Adventist School handed 83-year-old Raymond Ring a letter written by a student in honor of his service in the Navy.

The Korean War veteran looked down, read the short letter and smiled. The third-grader was also named Raymond.

The letter read: "Dear hero, Thank you for keeping us safe."

About 300 veterans, family members and local residents attended the American Legion Veterans Day celebration on Friday morning.

There were veterans ranging from World War II to Iraq in the crowd, and all of them were asked to stand and given a round of applause.

Cheers rang out through the room when they asked for Iraq War veterans, and Lodi High alumni and Marines Cpl. Victor Viramontes and Cpl. Andres Lopez stood up.

"It reminds me how important military people are and how much the city supports us out there," Viramontes said.

Two Girl Scout troops led the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and members of the Lodi Seventh-day Adventist School sang the National Anthem.

Guest speakers included Frank Reed, who wrote "Mother's Six Marines, A Memoir," and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, who said it was hard to follow the children's performance.

"Nothing will arise the feeling of patriotism for our country as these young voices pledging to the flag and singing the songs of our great nations," McNerney said.

The yearly ceremony focused on the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which served during World War II and was made up of mainly Nisei, second-generation Japanese-Americans.

Mayor Bob Johnson, who served as a Marine, gave some background on the men who joined the regiment and how many of them were considered second-class citizens before the war. Despite the discrimination, they still went out and fought valiantly.

"These men went to war and fought for the values their parents spoke of: duty, honor and responsibility. They fought for the love of their country when their country disrespected them," Johnson said.

Larry Shimada joined the regiment when his family was at Rohwer Relocation Center, a Japanese internment camp, in Arkansas. He was stationed in France and Italy, and served as a medic tending to the wounded.

After the war, he came back and started farming in Acampo with his brother, who also served in the regiment.

While he is glad he went to the ceremony Friday, he said it can be difficult at times.

"I appreciate it. Everyone is saying thanks, but we are thankful, too," Shimada said.

Lodi resident Joan Nakashima displayed a replica of a Congressional Gold Medal, which she received Nov. 2 at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. on behalf of her husband, Donald Nakashima, who died in 1996.

The medal was given to the regiment in recognition of their unit being the most decorated in United States military history for its size and length of service.

McNerney challenged local residents to sit down with a veteran and listen to their stories.

"These are stories that make up American history. They are interesting, fascinating; they are moving," he said.

He applauded the passage of the VOW to Hire Heroes Act in the Senate that will expand on-the-job training and give tax credits to companies that hire veterans who have disabilities from their time in the service or have been jobless for six months or longer.

"Nobody wants to serve this country more than our veterans. They deserve these privileges to allow them become a productive part of our society," McNerney said.

Carl Sayre, who served as an Army staff sergeant, was recognized for donating a collection of medals to the VFW that he spent decades collecting.

He served for four years during the Korean War, and said he would do it again, even at the age of 80.

He said it's important to celebrate Veterans Day and thank those who have served.

"Veterans Day is a real honor. I'm actually being saluted instead of saluting someone else," Sayre said.

For M.L. Horton, who served as both a Marine and a Navy SEAL, Veterans Day is to celebrate the four freedoms U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear.

"From what I've seen in other counties, there's no place like home," he said.

Lodi resident Sharon Davis went to Veterans Plaza on Friday morning before the ceremony with her sister, Teresa Williamson, who lives in Seattle.

They copied a quote said by Edmund Burke, a philosopher, in 1774 from one of the stones in the plaza that they felt illustrates the importance of honoring military service.

"The blood of man should never be shed but to redeem the blood of man. It is well shed for our family, for our friends, for our God, for our country, for our kind. The rest is vanity; the rest is crime."

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodinews.com. Read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/citybuzz.

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