For many local veterans, service in war was just the start of a lifetime of commitment.
That, according to local veteran Allan Lial, a member of the Escalon American Legion Gustafson-Thompson Post, who served as keynote speaker on Thursday, Nov. 11 at Veterans Day ceremonies. Hosted at the Memorial Wall adjacent to the city’s Community Center, Lial said it is important to honor veterans, not just on specific holidays, but throughout the year.
A U.S. Navy veteran who served from 1974 to 1996, Lial was a Chief Petty Officer and had many service stations, from Washington, DC to Guam, San Diego to the Philippines.
He served aboard the USS Eisenhower, the USS Ajax and the USS George Washington during his career. Born and raised in Escalon, Lial graduated with the Class of 1971 from EHS and has been active in the local American Legion Post for about three years.
“The American Legion Post 263 proudly hosts the Veterans Day parade and tribute … but we are much more than that,” Lial told the crowd assembled for the ceremony on Thursday. “We are mentoring our youth, we are sponsoring programs, we are advocating patriotism and honor and, most importantly, we remain devoted to our veterans.”
And while the sports team sponsorships, programs at local schools and providing the colorguard at home football games are things the post members are happy to do, Lial said they also focus on those who have gone before them.
“We placed 1000 flags on the graves of veterans at Burwood,” Lial said of a Memorial Day program at Burwood Cemetery.
The post puts on several Memorial Day programs, at Burwood, Farmington and St. John’s Cemetery. Lial said in the future, he wants to see a better turnout from the community for these events, stressing the importance of remembering the sacrifices veterans and their families have made in the name of freedom over the years.
“Today is also a festive occasion,” Lial added, “to show our gratitude to all who have served.”
His own inspiration, Lial explained, was learning of the death of Wendall Eliason, shot down over Vietnam when he was just 25 years old in 1965. Lial, then a sixth grader, said the news made a huge impact on him. Eliason was the only Escalon casualty in Vietnam. A memorial at the Community Center lists the names of those lost in World War I – Bertil Gustafson and Cecil E. Thompson – as well as listing the names of 27 service members from the area lost in World War II. There were no casualties listed for Korea. The memorial includes those four wars and a wreath laying as part of the program on Thursday commemorated their sacrifice.
Lial said he has been to the Vietnam Memorial when he has traveled back east and always finds the panel on which Eliason’s name is engraved.
“I never even met Lt. Eliason,” Lial said, “but I will never forget.”
Prior to the memorial service and a chicken or ribs lunch prepared and served up by Arnold’s Barbecue of Escalon, there was a festive downtown parade and a lowering of the flag at the Main Street caboose. Taps was played as the parade was briefly halted, and Grand Marshal Al Bellinger stood at attention outside his parade vehicle while the ceremony took place. He then returned to the car interior to wave at parade watchers, who also enjoyed seeing a variety of local service clubs, organizations, representatives of the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Department, local first responders and more.
Just before turning over the ceremony for the wreath dedication and a 21-gun salute at the Community Center, Lial again encouraged attendees to remember veterans.
“This year at our Memorial Day service (at Burwood) we had less than 25 people there,” he said. “Let’s have hundreds out there next year … let’s reflect on what their (veterans’) service has done for you.”