HUGHSON — Amid hundreds of American flags snapping in the breeze, community members joined veterans and politicians Monday to pay tribute to those who have died defending our country.
Dignitaries making solemn speeches are a staple at Memorial Day ceremonies, and this year's gathering at Hughson's Lakewood Memorial Park was no different.
But it was an 85-year-old Baptist preacher, the Rev. Adrian Condit of Ceres, who fired up and inspired the crowd.
"Let me ask you a question: Is freedom worth fighting for?" Condit asked the audience.
The lukewarm response he received wasn't enthusiastic enough for Condit, so he repeated his question until a resounding "yes" reverberated through the cemetery.
"What we need today is a renewal of patriotism in America," insisted Condit, whose son Gary once was the region's congressman. "I'd rather be dead than live without freedom."
That got heads nodding in agreement. The onlookers many of whom were seated in lawn chairs wedged among military grave markers were attentive to his words.
"We need people who will stand up to support the principles we hold dear to our hearts," Condit bellowed. He clicked off a list of freedoms he cherishes, including the right to freedom of worship. And he urged the crowd to show its commitment to America. "You need to fly your flag proudly."
Honoring the flag was something the Munoz family of Modesto was proud to do Monday.
Kristeena and Martin Munoz and several members of their extended family set their chairs up front and center so they could see their son, Isaac Munoz, and other naval sea cadets carry in and post flags during the ceremony.
"He hopes to enlist as a Navy officer after he graduates from college," Kristeena Munoz said. She noted that her father served during the Vietnam War and her grandfather served during World War II.
"I'm extraordinarily proud of him," Munoz said of her son. "I don't think there's any more noble profession than to serve your country."
A few hundred people attended Monday's ceremony, and getting the cemetery decorated for the event required many volunteers.
Members of the American Legion Post 74 Auxiliary spent hours attaching 5,000 red poppies to white crosses that were placed with American flags next to the graves of former military members.
"Supporting the veterans is what we do," auxiliary member Lucille Sheffield explained. "Like the pastor said, we need more patriotism. We need more younger people to get on board with us."
Volunteers from nine Boy Scout troops did just that to help decorate the Lakewood graves this weekend.
Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2196.