It was eight years ago today that terrorists attacked the U.S., stunning the nation and bringing an outpouring of volunteers for the military response that followed. Hundreds joined up for the first time or were in reserve units that were deployed to the war fronts, ongoing deployments and enlistments that continue today, especially as the military build-up in Afghanistan intensifies.
But while men and women went off to serve in Vietnam and Korea with little recognition when they returned, new organizations such as the Pleasanton Military Families were established after 9/11 to make sure that didn't happen again.
During the recent Congressional recess, Congressman Jerry McNerney (D-Pleasanton) went to a number of the homecomings. He often talks about how proud he is to live here where he and his wife Mary have raised their children, "especially in a city that recognizes the value of military service."
"After the Korean War, our veterans were ignored," McNerney said. "And after Vietnam, our veterans were shunned. We did our country a national disservice and dishonor and we will never let that happen again. We will always show respect and thanks to our veterans who have served our country and we are doing that here in Pleasanton."
Just in the last month, rousing rallies have been held on Pleasanton streets to welcome home seven soldiers who have returned safely from Iraq.
Last Tuesday, scores of well-wishers waved banners, flags and cheered as 25-year-old Army Sgt. Michelle Sanchez arrived back from Iraq at the Laguna Oaks home of her parents Dawn and Henry Sanchez. A Pleasanton custom over the years has been for returning soldiers to be met at the airport where they arrive by the Warriors Watch Riders, the official honor escort for all military welcome home events. The Riders group is led by Fred (a.k.a. Spike) Schau, state coordinator of WWR's Northern California chapter.
In a ceremony outside the Sanchez home, Doug Miller, commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6298 in Pleasanton who is now in charge of these welcome home events, praised Sanchez for her service in Iraq.
"We appreciate your service and what you've done over in Iraq for the last 15 months in supporting 'Operation Iraqi Freedom,'" Miller said.
He noted that Sanchez, who left Foothill High School to join the Army in 2002 shortly after 9/11, has served in Kuwait and Germany as well as Iraq and, after seven years in the service, plans to make it a career. Her awards include the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary medal among many other awards and decorations.
"I love the military," she told the crowd at the welcome home ceremony.
Pat Frizzell of the military families group awarded her a flag from the Lafayette Flag Brigade that began flying American flags from overpasses Sept. 12, 2001.
"We've done a lot of welcome homes but probably have only had a handful for women," Frizzell said. "It takes a special woman to join the military and accomplish what you've accomplished. So welcome home."
Just four days earlier, community and civic leaders held a similar rally for Army Sgt. Aaron Jagger. Again, escorted home by the Warriors motorcycle brigade from Oakland Airport, he joined his parents Kim and Brian Jagger at their Hillsdale Court home, where crowds lined Springdale Avenue and other streets to cheer Jagger as he approached.
"We're all here because we appreciate the hard work and sacrifice you've made for this community," Doug Miller said.
A representative of McNerney's office presented Jagger with a Certificate of Congressional Recognition and a letter of appreciation for his service. Mayor Jennifer Hosterman and Councilman Thorne also thanked Jagger on behalf of the city.
"I've always felt that men and women who give their time, service and skills for the service of our country are among the most valued citizens," Thorne said. "It's my honor to wish you the very best of everything this country has to offer you."
Also thanking Jagger for his service was Command Sergeant Major Connie Faye Commenia-Hill of the Combat Support Training Center at Camp Parks in Dublin, a member of the Pleasanton VFW post and also, with 36 years of service, the senior enlisted soldier at Camp Parks.
Noting that Jagger's job in the Army was vehicle maintenance, she said: "I especially want to thank you for giving up some of your time to go and defend our country. I know what it's like because I was in Kuwait and Iraq in 2005 and 2006. I also know that the maintenance vehicle person was a great guy to consult because the first time I went out on a mission my vehicle broke down and I needed help."
Others at the ceremony included representatives of the American Legion, Pleasanton Military Families, Operation S.A.M. and Blue Star Moms.
Jagger, who graduated from Foothill High School in 2006, has three months left to serve on active duty. He will then be in the active Army Reserves for four years before being discharged.
A week earlier, several hundred well-wishers thanked three Marines just back from Iraq for their service. Also escorted by the Warriors' Watch Riders, the procession included a fire truck and Pleasanton police motorcyclists in the lead as the Marines waved back to the crowds from a Mustang convertible along the homecoming route on Bernal Avenue from I-680 to Main Street, and then west on St. Mary, Division, Hopyard and West Las Positas to the home on Heath Court of returning Marine Lance Cpl. Ronnie Silva, son of Denise and Bob Silva, who were waiting to greet him.
With Silva were fellow Marines: Cpl. John Minerva, son of Kathy and Don Minerva, and Cpl. Jon Zinke-Zagarella, whose grandmother Eulailah was also at the Silva home to greet him.
As the Marines arrived in Heath Court where an estimated 150 were waiting, special bagpipe music was provided by Donna and John Willy, Also active in the Pleasanton Military Families group and usually at local homecomings playing their bagpipes. In town because of the August recess, Congressman McNerney and his wife Mary, whose home is just a few blocks away from the Silva's, joined in the celebration.
The Willys hosted their own homecoming party the day before when their son Kester, 24, a 2004 Foothill High graduate, returned from a year in Iraq. Part of the 38th Cavalry Airborne division (the "snoop dogs"), the Army specialist still has about 14 months of active duty left, and will leave later this month for Fort Hood in Texas. It's unlikely that he will be deployed again before his tour of duty is up.
Kester Willy was hardly out of his uniform before he donned kilts to join his parents at the Scottish Games over the Labor Day weekend, providing an American flag that had flown over his base in Iraq to the games organizers who flew it at the two-day fairgrounds event.
Like many Pleasanton men and women who have volunteered to serve, Willy comes from a military family. Donna Willy's father Jack Ernest was a Marine who fought in the Korean War; John Willy's late father Todd served in the Army.