With more than 250 people looking on in respect, a group of veterans helped raise the flag for all five branches of military service on Flag Day Wednesday during the dedication of a renovated veterans memorial at Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park.
“This was fantastic,” said Kaci Lutz, a U.S. Army captain who served for 8 1/2 years including two tours in Iraq, and current public information officer for the California Highway Patrol office in Oakhurst. “I was asked to raise the Army flag, and what an honor. There’s so many veterans up here in the Mountain Area, it’s just such an honor to be amongst those who have seen so much bigger and badder than any of us could have ever imagined. There’s a lot to be proud of here today.”
Among those who helped raise each service flag, a new addition the memorial, were: Lutz and Sgt. 1st Class Joe West for the Army; Sgt. Bud Russel and Sgt. Jarrett Dean for the Marine Corps; Photographers Mate Dorothy Zuber and Sea Bees Petty Officer 3rd Class Kurt Bridwell for the Navy; Lt. Col Gerrit Allen and Sea Bee Petty Officer 3rd Class (assisting) for the Air Force; and Petty Officer 1st Class and Boson Mate William “Bill” Flaherty for the Coast Guard.
“This was absolutely outstanding, and a completely necessary event,” said Tom Wheeler, Madera County District 5 Supervisor. “With this memorial, along with the new memorial being built in Coarsegold, we’re finally honoring our veterans, forever, like it should have been done long before.”
Retired Marine Corps Col. Gerald Bosworth served as the narrator, or master of ceremonies for the event, with a prayer by Chaplain Richard Lamontagne, a Navy veteran, and a speech from Fern Facchino, chair of the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park Committee.
“This memorial is to honor all veterans,” Bosworth said. “Those who died serving in uniform during war time, those who survived, and those who have served in times of peace. We also honor their families and friends, many who continue to help their veteran every day.”
For many, the dedication, held at 10 a.m., served as a reminder for others about the value of honoring the nation’s veterans.
“In today’s age, in our country, there’s not a lot of respect and remembrance of all these veterans and what they did for us,” said David O’Brien, a Yosemite High School student and member of Boy Scouts Troop #316 in Oakhurst, which helped during the event. “I think that’s why this was important, to remind folks that these veterans protected us, and the freedoms that we all get to enjoy.”
“I think this veterans memorial is another great gesture by the Eastern Madera County community to recognize and support the large number of veterans that live in the Mountain Area,” said David Linn, Madera County District Attorney and a retired U.S. Navy Commander. “This memorial, along with the Coarsegold memorial, and the soon to be announced Oakhurst Vietnam Veterans of America Memorial to be constructed on Highway 41, clearly shows the patriotism of our communities.”
Nancy Wider and Diane Ward of Daughters of the American Revolution placed a wreath on the memorial, followed by a 21-gun salute from the Marine Corps Rifle Squad out of Lemoore Naval Air Station, the playing of Taps by Steve Varner and Burl Howell, and a releasing of white doves of peace by Cpl. Richard and Lupe Schuchl from Coarsegold.
The original “Veterans For Veterans” Memorial at the park, with the American flag and a POW/MIA flag on a single pole, was dedicated to J.R. Froelich during a July 30, 2016.
The late Froelich joined the U.S. Navy in 1967, serving two tours in Vietnam, and was a frequent contributor to the Sierra Star.
A plaque on a marble pedestal and walkway were included in the original memorial. The dedication was hosted by the nonprofit Friends of the Ahwahnee Hills Regional Park, Marine Corps League Griswold Mountain Detachment #1121, Caring Vets, Inc., and the 41-49 Chapter of E. Clampus Vitus.
The Ahwanee Hills Regional Park Board of Directors and the Marine Corp League Griswold Mountain Detachment 1121, and VFW Post 8743, decided through discussions that additions should be made after that initial dedication.
In addition to the new flag poles for the five military branches, a 90-foot cement circle to hold the five service flags was added, along with five benches and a wheelchair ramp. Many veterans were invited to sit on those benches during Wednesday’s dedication, and each had their hand shaken by Bosworth.
One bench, dedicated to U.S. Army veteran Albert A. Weinman, was empty during Wednesday’s event. Bosworth saluted the bench in memory of the recently deceased Weinman, a survivor of the Normandy landings at Utah Beach in WWII.
“Rest in peace Albert,” Bosworth said. “You are remembered.”
Ralph Capone, Marine Corps League Chairman, said the additions to the memorial took about 18 months to install, and many hours of work. Bosworth said without Capone, the renovations would have been impossible.
The new flags were ordered after the community made donations to the memorial. Each will have its own solar light and eagle on top of the pole.
Editor’s note: When this story was originally published, Caring Veterans, Inc., was incorrectly listed as Caring Veterans of America, Inc. The two are separate organizations. We regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.