Another Memorial Day has passed and I’m still here. A lot of the folks that I met are no longer with us. A lot of them are schoolmates that just got too old. I know I’m getting up there, but days like today allow me to think back to those who have passed.
My high school class had a reunion a couple of weeks ago. Of course I didn’t know about it until it was over, but I’m not surprised nor was I hurt. When I enlisted in the Army, I left my home and hometown and didn’t look back. About the only reason I even went back was to see my mom and dad between deployments to foreign lands.
I can’t even remember how I found out about the reunion. However, I don’t seem to be the only person who forgets things as we grow older. I’m pretty sure it was something that popped up on my Facebook page too. The lady that put on the reunion was a very nice lady who reminded me that we both came from another town and we both entered the eighth grade at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Wasco the same day and had the same teacher.
There were a lot of kids that came from families that had dairies with Russian names. Her last name was Slivkoff. It was probably like all the kids around Gonzales had Swiss names. Wasco and Gonzales were both small towns about the same size. I guess that’s why I love Gonzales so much.
I never tried to get together with Gale. She was a really nice girl and I wasn’t looking for girls at the time. I had no money or car and lived on the other side of Wasco. I did like her though. So much that I did something really dumb. I got into a fight with the guy that was trying to make her his girlfriend. I’ll be honest that wasn’t the smartest thing I ever did. In fact I have told Lorraine about it because it was really the only fight I ever had with another guy, and he was pretty popular and I was just the new boy in school.
There was another schoolmate at the reunion. He is the one who got in touch with me as he knew I lived somewhere near Salinas. He didn’t get in touch with me in time, but it wasn’t that he didn’t want to. He just kept looking on the computer and found me on an old Facebook page I had already given up. His name is Bert Shaw, but I don’t think many kids from Wasco High would remember that.
He and a friend of his used to lift weights in high school. They worked hard at it and gained a lot of muscle. The rest of my little gang of friends were probably jealous because we lived in the country and couldn’t hang around after school. We had to get home and do chores. But seeing as he was getting bigger and stronger than us, a couple of my buddies said, “Hey Bert, that’s not muscle, that’s fat.”
So we started calling him Fatboy. He didn’t mind back then, but I guess he grew out of that and so he told us not to call him that anymore. Didn’t do any good as we all, well those of us who are still around, just kept calling him Fatboy. He is a really cool guy that had a catering truck back when I got out of the Army and went to work for the Sheriff’s Office. This was before catering trucks were like mosquitos around Salinas. He made a tub full of money. The City of Salinas didn’t quite know how to deal with the trucks back then, so he was inspected just about every week. That probably scared off anyone trying to take his customers.
Anyway, he told Gale where I lived and she sent me a message after the reunion saying how sorry she was that she hadn’t reached me. She said that she had read about my career in the Wasco newspaper. This was back when the Army would send a notice to your hometown newspaper if you finished a difficult class. My mom used to cut them out and send them to me, and to be honest I was probably a little too proud because I didn’t think anyone would care. However, I was glad to hear she had read them. We have sent each other emails and pictures of our kids. She said she would make sure to include me when they got together again. Sixty-one years ago. Man oh man, time does fly.
I also wanted to say “thanks” to all the folks that went out to the cemetery Monday and paid their respects to the fallen that are buried there. Of course we have to salute Paul Guzman, the interim Commander of Post 81 of the American Legion here in Gonzales. I am honored to be the squad leader of the Firing Squad, and I would have had to stand out there all alone without the dedication of the following men that gave their time on this holiday to back me up.
First I would like to thank Nick Rocha, who gave his time to practice and back me up. Nick proudly served in the U.S. Marines and said he felt proud to honor the fallen. Then there was my son-in-law Eric Chavez. He and my daughter Tara drove all the way from Discovery Bay on Saturday to practice and then again on Memorial Day to honor his father who served in Korea. My next-door neighbor Ronnie King, who just wanted to help. My grandson CJ White, who made it look easy, and one of our own, Abel Avila. And, if you will excuse the pride of a father, I also want to thank my son Austin.
I may have given you their names, but I also wanted to say that some of these guys had never fired a shot in their lives. May God smile upon them for their dedication to our fallen heroes. God Bless.