Dear veteran: Thank you for risking your own lives to save everyone else. Thank you for giving us freedom. Sincerely, Seth. Rabbi Raphael Pazo Jr. read part of the letter carefully penned by an elementary school student and had to clear his throat. Every single veteran received letters for local school children thanking them for their service.
Pazo said the letters symbolizes the importance of remembering that freedom isn't free.
"Many people risk their lives to secure freedom that we take for granted," Pazo said.
At the Veterans Day ceremony Thursday, Pazo was one of many veterans honored during the largest celebration of service men and women in Lodi.
About 250 people filed into American Legion Post 22 as the Pipes and Drums of the 191st Army Band played outside between 11 American flags.
Thank you for fighting for our country. Thank you for bringing us peace. Thank you for going to war. Thank you for being a veteran.
Your second grade friend, Casey.
The ceremony started with an invocation from Pastor David Hill of Grace Presbyterian Church, who said his dad served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He thanked all of the veterans for their service, and prayed for American forces still serving.
"Lord, may we see a day when the ultimate goal will be your peace for all people on the face of this Earth," Hill prayed.
Lodi Girl Scout Troops 2030 and 2028 recited the Pledge of Allegiance with troop leader Tracey Stoltman. Then, almost 50 thirdand fourth-grade students from the Lodi Seventh-day Adventist School placed their hands over their heart and sang the "The Star-Spangled Banner" followed by "America the Beautiful."
Maj. Gen. Robert Brandt, the keynote speaker, described traveling the world looking at military battlefields and cemeteries from American wars.
Brandt, who has authored two books, retired from the military in 1999 after 44 years of military service, including two tours in Vietnam. He was one of the 300 Army aviators who flew the first helicopter combat missions in Vietnam.
He described standing on Omaha Beach during low-tide in Normandy, France and looking back at the flat, open sand. He applauded the four veterans in the audience who were at the beach during D-Day,
"When you think about what they had to do, there was no going back. There was only going forward. ... For those who were there, thank you very much. I don't know how you do it," Brandt said.
Thank you for risking your life to save others. Everyone could sit at home feeling safe when you were out fighting. It probably feels nice to be home with your family now.
When thanking the veterans, Brandt said it is important to remember not only the veterans who served, but also their families.
"It's one thing to be overseas serving our county. But it's another for the families to be home alone not knowing what's going on," Brandt said.
For the first time, the celebration included an example of a flag-folding ceremony for the California Army Guard's Military Funeral Detail.
While two non-commissioned enlisted personnel folded a flag, veteran Bill Selling explained why each step was significant.
After the flag ceremony, the veterans paid tribute to prisoners of war and missing in action soldiers. This year only one veteran, Gilbert Woehl, came forward when they asked for POWS. He fought in World War II and landed on Normandy Beach four days after D-Day.
In one of the lighter moments during the ceremony, the Lodi Community Band medley started playing the Armed Forces Salute, which is the mixture all of the march songs that represent each branch of the military. All of the attendees clapped along as veterans stood, some saluting, during their branches song.
Thank you for fighting. My family is proud of what you've done. Hope that you will have some fun. Remembers God. He's watching over you.
Love, fifth grade.
Eight-year-old Kieran Evanger said she was excited to be at the ceremony on her day off from school.
"I liked listening to the music," she said.
Many of the attendees said the holiday is important because Americans need to remember sacrifices that veterans are still making today.
Lodi resident Lilly Lohrke's dad and brother were in the Vietnam, and she wore a donated military jacket to show her support.
"I applaud everyone that has served," Lohrke said.
She was sitting with Steven Bojorques, who was in the Air Force Reserve when Sept. 11 happened and was activated shortly after the attack.
"The first thought I had when the planes hit the buildings, I thought I got here just in time. I was ready to fight," he said.
Standing with his wife and four-year-old daughter, Brylen Fluckiger said he attended the ceremony to watch his uncle play in the Lodi Community Band. Fluckiger is currently stationed at Camp Pendleton and will be deployed in March to Afghanistan.
"It's important to acknowledge the sacrifices people have made and how far we have come," Fluckiger said.
I want to thank you for saving our country. You are so brave and you are so strong. I want to be in the Army, so thank you for helping me see my future. Remember God bless you.