AHWAHNEE — Today was a celebration of our veterans from all branches of the United States Armed Forces, and also a recognition of what can be accomplished through the hard work and dedication of a group of veterans and local citizens.
Hundreds gathered at the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park this morning for the dedication of the Veterans’ Memorial — a project several years in the making that grew out of the desire to create something “By Veterans, For Veterans.”
Col Gerald Bosworth, U.S. Marine Corps Retired and Vietnam veteran, served as Master of Ceremonies, and personally honored the veterans seated on each of the five benches installed around the perimeter of the monument. One of those benches stood empty, in memory of U.S. Army veteran Albert A. Weinman, Utah Beach survivor of the Normandy Landings, who recently passed away.
Two veterans from each branch of service — Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard — stepped forward to raise their respective flags from half-staff, on specially lighted flag poles, as assembled veterans stood to salute.
Nancy Wider and Diane Ward of the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a wreath, followed by a rifle salute by the Marine Corps Rifle Squad from Lemoore Naval Air Station, under the command of 1st Sgt Melecio Rodriquez.
Burl Howell and Steve Varner played Taps in reverent remembrance, and Cpl Richard Schuhl and Lupe Schuhl organized the release of “White Doves of Peace.”
The memorial will now stand as a place for quiet contemplation and honor of those who have served, and those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their country.
What started as an idea by J.R. Frolich, Navy veteran and long-time Oakhurst resident, grew into a simple monument site with a single flag pole displaying the Stars and Stripes and the POW Flag, and a brass plaque installed in granite by the members of E Clampus Vitus Grub Gulch Chapter #41-49. The monument was dedicated in 2011.
Retired Rocketdyne engineer and Friends of Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park board member Tony Ward had been persuaded by J.R. to get involved, and when J.R. passed away in early 2016, Ward made a call to Ralph Capone, Past Commander of the Marine Corps League, Griswold Mountain, to enlist his help in building out the monument.
Soon the Marine Corps League and VFW Post #8743 took up the cause, purchasing the flags of each branch of service. Tony Ward began the design, which he notes was re-designed four times before the final plan was implemented.
“We would be ready to finalize the plans, and discover something else we wanted to include.”
As anyone who has ever worked on this type of project knows, there is no better group of men to get things done than the Clampers, so Capone called on them next.
Outback Materials had donated the concrete for the 90-foot walkway that encircles the monument, and the Clampers had done the pour. With the new plans moving forward, they were called on once again to provide their muscle, skill and enthusiasm to the project.
“The best day of this project was the day we had the Scouts, the Clampers and the Marines all out here working together,” says Ward. “They worked hand-in-glove, the way a community should work. If everyone could work like this, we could conquer the world! We got so much accomplished.”
The Clampers did much of the “heavy lifting” on the project, not only helping the veterans pour concrete, but installing an accessible wheelchair path, along with placing two large granite plaques. Each plaque is erected inside the circle, including the Battlefield Cross.
With that monument delayed in shipping and not arriving in time for the ceremonies, a replica was created out of plywood to stand in place of the 14,000 lb. original, set to arrive soon. And no one was the wiser, nor would they have minded.
Clayton Lemire of Lemire Tractor donated toward the concrete, and Mark Campbell of Campbell Engineering brought his Bobcat and an auger to move dirt and dig holes for the bench frames.
Synthetic grass was installed as a final touch — made possible by Capone’s locating a landscaper to come out in the final days and do the installation.
Boy Scout Troop 316 put in over 160 man hours on the project, helping with the concrete and the digging of the holes for the foundations of the benches. Ryan O’Meara, working on his Eagle Project, raised over $3,500 for the installation of the benches.
On Monday, Eric and Sara Pearson of California Paving sent eight truck loads of sawdust out to complete the project.
With everything in place for the dedication, veterans, community members and even passers-by joined together in celebration of the completion of the project, and most importantly, in honor of our veterans.
The raising of the Flags:
Army Sgt 2st Class Retired, Joe West, served three tours in Vietnam
Marine Gunnery Sgt Bud Russell, a veteran of Korea and Vietnam
Marine Staff Sgt Jarrett Dean, Vietnam era veteran, now serving as Madera County Sheriff’s Office Citizen on Patrol
Navy Photographers Mate, Dorothy Zuber, Vietnam era veteran
Navy Sea Bees Petty Officer 3rd Class, Kurt Bridwell, Vietnam era veteran
Navy Sea Bee Petty Officer 3rd Class, Cy Hichens, Vietnam veteran (assisting Air Force)
Petty Officer 1st Class George De La Rocha, Vietnam era veteran
Boatswain’s Mate William (Bill) Flaherty, Vietnam era veteran
Veterans honored at each of the five benches:
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class, Charles (Chuck) Lishman, Pearl Harbor survivor, with his wife Dorothy
Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class, S. Kent Foster, served in the South Pacific
Navy Torpedo Man 2nd Class, Michael Mitchel, Sr., and son Mike Mitchel, Jr., Vietnam veteran
Air Force Staff Sgt Retired, Harrison Dedmond, and Air Force Major Retired, Ann Dedmond
“We honor all our Brothers and Sisters who “Gave Their All” for this flag and country and are here with us in spirit. We honor all our Brothers and Sisters who “Gave Some” and are here with us today. We honor the families and friends of those here with us today who continue to help their veteran every day.
We honor those veterans who continue to serve in many ways every day helping their communities as first responders — Highway Patrol, Sheriff deputies, firefighters, paramedics, Emergency Service Personnel and the thousands of veterans who volunteer their time and energy.” Ralph Capone from the dedication program
Those who donated money, time or materials to the project:
Sierra Lions Club
Donna Smith – Foster and Parker Insurance
Karin Mann – Concierge Wealth Management
E Clampus Vitus Grub Gulch Chapter #41-49
Len Rogers – Java Mountain News
Eric & Sara Pearson – California Paving
Phillip and Jordan Co.
VFW Post #8743
Scout Troop 316
Ryan O’Meara Family
Madera County Sheriff Citizens on Patrol
Cory Severson – Advanced Drought Scapes
Oakhurst Elks Lodge #2724
Uncommon U.S.A., Inc
Marine Corps League, Griswold Mountain
Daughters of the American Revolution
Philanthropic Education Organization
Clayton Lemire of Lemire Tractor
Mark Campbell of Campbell Engineering