Members of the Elks Lodge on Saturday celebrated the completion of a long-awaited project honoring those who served overseas and, in many cases, did not come back.
The veterans group unveiled a monument dedicated to soldiers missing in action and prisoners of war.
Elks Lodge members said in the next few months a flagpole featuring the POW-MIA flag will be installed next to the monument.
“This project was a long time coming,” said Rob Fischer, the lodge’s exalted ruler. “The gray skies you see today do not reflect the sunshine in our hearts for our veterans. Their sacrifice is beyond reproach.”
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Elks Lodge member Richard Barcellos has been working toward having a memorial for nine years. The idea began as an effort to have a more visible POW/MIA flag at the San Joaquin National Cemetery.
Barcellos and other members of the lodge collected donations, but it was not enough to complete the project. Merced County Supervisor Jerry O’Banion spoke about his financial contribution during Saturday’s ceremony.
“Five, six years ago, Mr. Barcellos started twisting my arm and wanted a check. He talked about getting this thing put together... and you know what, I got that check back in the mail, ” O’Banion quipped. “First time I ever got a check back.”
Barcellos said despite many people contributing, there was a time when it appeared the lodge would be unable to raise enough money.
Richard Frontella, a lodge member, said veterans continued to discuss the project for years and eventually the lodge made another attempt to get it done.
Whitehurst Funeral Chapel, which engraved the monument for free, was one of the contributors thanked at the ceremony for allowing the $6,100 project to be finished.
The monument is two-sided. On one side is the message, “We honor our veterans,” and the other side says they will never be forgotten.
The monument is at the Elks Lodge, 565 E St., and not at the national cemetery because it does not conform to federal regulations, said Larry Carmo, the lodge’s esteemed leading knight.