Friend is headed back to Baghdad, Bee Web site informs

03/09/2008 4:04 AM

03/09/2008 4:09 AM

Robert Bernasconi of Escalon saw something on The Bee's Web site that caught his eye a couple of weeks ago.

It was about his good friend Philip Ramos, who had come to Modesto on leave from military service in Baghdad. Bernasconi loved the story and wanted to tell Ramos. But Bernasconi would have to wait. Ramos was en route to Baghdad. That's where Bernasconi was, too.

He and Ramos had shared Thanksgiving together at their base in Iraq after the soldiers' mothers got acquainted at a meeting of the Central Valley Chapter of Blue Star Mothers and Families.

"I'm waiting for him to get back so we can catch him up on what he's missed," Bernasconi said of his friend. Then he added, "He ain't missed nothing."

Bernasconi said he still was deciding whether to re-enlist.

"It's not about the bonus," he said. "It's about what I can do to further my career in the Army or when I get out."

Bernasconi said sometimes a parent can be high maintenance. His mother is that way. "If I don't call every three days she goes nuts," he said.

Considering what he does, that's understandable.

"I'm a specialist," Bernasconi said. "I scout for roadside bombs. I make sure I see 'em before they can find somebody else." He said there was no need to worry. "Our vehicles are made to take hits."

The new Veterans Center at 1219 Carpenter Road in Modesto will soon dedicate a painting that also is a tribute to a fallen soldier. The work, "Home of the Brave," honors Army Pfc. Bruce Sala- zar, who was killed by an explosive device in Iraq in July.

Artist Sherri Morris painted the abstract to pay homage to Salazar, who grew up in Modesto, and all the troops who serve. Salazar's mother, Margaret (Suzie) Ruiz, lives in Modesto.

Morris explained how the painting came to be. A cancer survivor, she was given a 4-foot-by-5-foot canvas as part of her art therapy.

"I started a landscape and hated it," she said. "I picked up the paper and saw Bruce had died. I knew (him) through his mother." Morris and Ruiz were friends.

"Junior was just a young boy when I met him," Morris said. "It broke my heart (when he died)."

Morris started putting paint on a canvas.

"I wanted to go for something for all the young men and women who serve for us and all the men we've lost there."

If you look close, Morris said, you can see the red, white and blue colors running through the painting along with a star in one corner and shadows of the Statue of Liberty.

The invitation-only dedication will be Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Veterans Center Director Steve Lawson said there will be a public open house for the new facil- ity in late April.

The Central Valley Chapter of Blue Star Mothers and Families is sponsoring a "Support Our Troops" rally March 16 at 10 a.m. Supporters should gather at the hill in front of Sisk and Dale roads by Vintage Faire Mall in Modesto. For more information, call Debbie Katsounakis at 410-2467.

Chief Mechling of Stockton is the regional ride captain of the Patriot Guard Riders. He said the VFW motorcycle group will go to Berkeley on March 22 to support the troops in a rally at the Marine Corps recruiting office on University Avenue. For more information, call Mechling at 271-1718.

Staff writer Roger W. Hoskins may be reached at or 578-2311.

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