A thousand waving flags in Merced honor those who served

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comNovember 11, 2013 

— Alma Kollmann walked through the Field of Honor on the front lawn of Merced College on Monday, as many of the 1,000 flags around her waved in the wind.

The 82-year-old sponsored one of the flags to represent her two grandsons, Golden Valley High graduates Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett Kollmann and Lt. j.g. Drew Kollmann, who serve in the Navy. “I just thought it (would be) a very wonderful tribute,” Kollmann said.

Each of the 1,000 flags standing at attention during the last seven days in front of Merced College represented a veteran, soldier or first responder. The project, sponsored by the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club, came to a close Monday with a special Veterans Day closing ceremony. Organizers sold flag sponsorships for $35 each to benefit veterans organizations and designated charities of the Merced Sunrise Rotary Club.

Speakers during Monday’s closing ceremony included Merced Police Chief Norman Andrade and Vietnam War veteran Ernie Conner. The ceremony included an aerial flyover and a presentation by an area honor guard.

Each flag carried the name of the soldier or first responder it honored. Some had photos.

“We wanted to bring the community together,” Reed said. “(Also) we obviously raised some money, and we’re going to spend the money on the veterans.”

Reed said names on the flags came from service members of every modern American conflict, and one honored a soldier from the Continental Army. Reed said a flag was placed in the field in honor of Bob Hobbs, a Rotarian who first came up with the idea of Field of Honor. Hobbs, 73, died Oct. 31.

Catherine Gilbert was among those present during Monday’s ceremony. She stood in the field as she tied a photo of her father to one of the flags.

“Honoring our veterans is very important,” the 45-year-old said, adding that her father is an “awesome dad. He’s done so much for our family.”

Gilbert’s father, Robert Gilbert Sr., is a retired Air Force colonel who served in World War II, as well as the Korean and Vietnam wars. He rode in Monday’s Veterans Day Parade.

Gilbert purchased a flag to honor her brother, Bob Gilbert Jr. A member of Merced Police Department’s mounted patrol, he was wounded several years ago at the conclusion of a vehicle chase which began near the Merced County Fairgrounds and ended in the dead-end block of West Main Street. “Our first responders are also defending our country,” she said.

One first responder whose picture hung from a Field of Honor flag lost his life in the area. Officer Stephan Gray was murdered in 2004 during a traffic stop in Merced.

Lt. Andre Matthews put the flag up in Gray’s honor. He said it was important to him to remember an officer he served with.

“First responders are important, just as much as our military,” he said. “They’re the first line of defense here at home.”

Matthews said Gray’s legacy is carried on by his two “great” children. He said it was a joy to be around Gray, who “brought a lot of life and laughter to the department.”

“He was a great singer,” Matthews said with a laugh. “He would go around the department singing, and you could tell because he sung in this high-tone falsetto.”

Dennis Cordova, a 65-year-old Vietnam veteran, watched the flag that honored his father sway in the wind. His mother, 88-year-old Emily Cordova, clung to his arm.

Jose Cordova served in the Army Air Corps in Italy at the end of World War II, his son said. He said the 1,000 flags waving in honor of those who served was a fitting tribute.

“It’s nice,” he said with a smile.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 85-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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