By Joseph Geha | Bay Area News Group
Hundreds of people who came to Union City’s Veterans Memorial Park last Saturday morning to honor veterans attended the dedication of a new monument years in the making.
The large, six-sided black granite monument sits within a circle of flagpoles, surrounded by a freshly constructed seating area amid new landscaping.
The monument features panels honoring each branch of the U.S. Armed Services — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and National Guard.
Local dignitaries spoke to the crowd about the importance of honoring veterans for their service.
In an interview following his speech, U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell said the event was a reminder that veterans serve the country every day and should be cared for when they return.
“They served us, and now that they are out of service, we should still serve them,” Swalwell said. “Because their needs are having a job, still having the dignity to provide for their family, and take care of, for many of them, the health needs that they have and that were caused by their service to the country.
“If a veteran is homeless, we’re failing our veterans. If a veteran has committed suicide and we didn’t do enough to intervene, then we’re failing our veterans. If a veteran is going broke because of their health care costs, then we’re failing our veterans,” Swalwell continued.
“And that still happens. We should aspire to do a lot more and make their healthcare access as easy and affordable and of the highest quality as we can.”
Jaime Jamarillo, an Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, said he’s happy to see how vets today are respected, which wasn’t the case when he returned from serving in Vietnam.
As a young immigrant from Colombia who almost immediately enlisted, he was wearing his military uniform when he arrived at the airport in San Francisco in 1968 after more than two years in the service.
He was called derogatory names by people protesting the war and went to the bathroom to quickly change into his civilian clothes to avoid further insults.
The experience was enough to dash his dreams of becoming a career military man. “From that moment on I realized I didn’t want anybody to know that I served in Vietnam,” he said. For a long time he thought he was a bad person, and combined with the memories of the war itself, he was in a bad place mentally.
“I sort of wanted to hide away, and get away from people, and not talk to people. I isolated myself a lot,” he said.
“I would drive down the freeway, and I’d see a telephone pole, and I wanted to turn the wheel and hit that telephone pole,” he said as he held back tears. But now, with the help of a therapist, his family and other veterans, he is more comfortable with his past.
“I’m more open now,” he said. “Today was a special event and I’m glad I’m here.”
The circle of eight flagpoles has been at the park since 2009. That’s when the park at the corner of Dyer Street and Regents Boulevard was officially renamed Veterans Memorial Park at the request of a group of local vets.
They had spent two years raising $20,000 for the poles and continued to raise money for installation of a granite plaque and stone marker for the site.
Richard Valle, a Vietnam vet and Alameda County supervisor whose District 2 includes Union City, voted for the park’s renaming as a councilman there. His supervisor’s office also contributed roughly $200,000 from a discretionary fund to help push the monument to fruition.
The city said it is still tallying the total cost for the project, but a combination of park funds and General Fund money will cover the remaining expenses, which could range from $170,000 to $200,000.
“If you go to Washington D.C., you see memorials on this scale,” Valle said. “It’s rare that you see it in a suburb, in a community like Union City.”
The Veterans Day event featured a traditional military ceremony with Army personnel twice firing thunderously loud blank rounds from a howitzer cannon battery, a flag raising, and a flyover and landing by a Vietnam-era helicopter known as a Huey.
Valle said the helicopter stirred good and bad memories. “It’s a matter of reflecting on what you went through, and then coming out OK. It’s good for the heart and good for the soul,” he said.
Union City Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci, whose father and brother had served in the military, said she was proud of the large turnout.
“It brings community together,” she said. “Our society is so busy. People go about their everyday lives…an event like today has people pause and appreciate our country, what it represents, and what they have.”
Article: East Bay Times