NORTH FORK – Over 60 people gathered on this Memorial Day at the Military Defenders of Freedom Wall at Gas ‘n Stuff to honor those who serve.
The wall holds the names of North Fork sons and daughters from all branches of the military, and new names are being added to the 86 honorees who currently hold a place on the ever-expanding monument.
After The Star Spangled Banner was delivered with style by Bill Samuelson, music director for Chawanakee Unified School District, Sam Tallmon, a North Fork native and now pastor at Calvary Chapel of the Sierra, led the invocation.
Boy Scout Troop 347 presented the colors, and then Angelica Capuchino, U.S. Army Veteran and member of VFW Post 3225, addressed the crowd.
“Most of my experiences as a young soldier are those of happy memories; of camaraderie you can’t find anywhere else in the world. The trust built between soldiers in a war zone is unlike any other.
“When I was in Iraq there was rarely a day when the insurgents weren’t bombing us with mortars and rockets, and you never really knew if that day was going to be your last.
“Today is for those brave men and women who served and gave their all for us to be free. Today we honor and remember them, along with all those past and present who have served this nation.”
Angelica’s father, Augie Capuchino, who worked 31 years for the Chawanakee School District, began building the wall in 2004 with the help of the 8th grade class at North Fork School. It was their 8th grade project, and the class raised the money for the materials.
Augie has made all the signs himself, and as the project continued to grow, he has also paid for the materials himself after the initial funds were exhausted.
When John Somerville, retired Marine Corp Colonel, suggested the wall in 2004, he didn’t realize that Augie had plenty of experience with a router. Augie had stenciled and routed the 150 cedar gravestone markers of Native Americans at the North Fork Cemetery, as they had fallen in disrepair and needed to be redone for Madera County Cemetery District.
“I had some experience with a router,” said Augie, who spoke to the gathering after daughter Angelica. “And when I went to talk to Larry Johnson, who owned the Gas ‘n Stuff at the time, about our idea for the wall, he got a big smile from ear to ear, and told me to put the names on the whole building, all the way around!”
Augie then visited Bob McKee at the North Fork Hardware Store, in search of paint and other supplies for the project.
“Bob said, ‘Don’t worry about the money, you can have whatever you need.'”
So the third week of May that year, 47 names were installed on the wall, and it was dedicated on June 4, 2004. Since then, 39 more names have been added.
“When I was a bus driver at the school, I considered the kids on my bus to be my kids,” said Augie. “Once they got on the bus, they were my responsibility, they were my kids.
“I’ve been busing these kids since they were in kindergarten,” he said looking over at the wall. “These are my kids on this wall.”
Augie invites any family with a North Fork native serving in any branch of the military to have a sign made. It needs to include their branch of the service, their name and the year they enlisted. His work with the North Fork Volunteer Fire Department keeps him very busy, and he no longer makes the signs, but will be happy to add them to the wall.
Honorees on the Defenders of Freedom Wall
V. Alex Baleme
Teresa Flory Druen
Sean Mitchell (7.7.07)
Lemoore Barak Murphy
John Hayes Somerville