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‘We The People’ Gathering Remembers The Fallen
Waterford High School student Lani Ricco performed the National Anthem and Taps at the “We the People” event this past Saturday, Sept. 11 at American Veterans First in Riverbank. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

American Veterans First hosted a remembrance on Saturday, Sept. 11 called “We the People” for the lives lost on 9/11/2001 and the 13 American military personnel that were killed at the Kabul airport in Afghanistan. Members of the AVF board including CEO Duke Cooper, Paige McLaughlin, Jonathon Benjamin, Steve Lawson, Steve Rogers and newly appointed President Joshua Whitfield participated in making the event a success.

The flags were flying outside in the front of the building on Oakdale Road on Saturday. The doors were open, tables set, as people gathered to remember the tragic events that unfolded on 9/11 and those that were killed recently in Afghanistan. The food was donated by Wildfire Public House. There were pictures of the 13 fallen soldiers displayed and a table with the uniforms from the branch they served, along with 13 unopened beers.

The event began with Waterford High School student Lani Ricco playing the “The Star-Spangled Banner” – the anthem of the United States on her trumpet. The guests stood for the Pledge of Allegiance and the different branch hymns were played for each person that served in that branch.

“That is 2775 innocent people that were murdered in our country,” stated Cooper on his address to the guests about 9/11. “That is unacceptable. This is a serious and solemn occasion. If you look at the back table where the food is at the 13 military that were murdered in Kabul, Afghanistan, they weren’t killed in combat even though they are combat veterans. We salute them today and they will not be forgotten. They will hang permanently in our building.”

There was a POW/MIA table set up and each item had a specific meaning that was explained.

Cooper said, “It (the table) pays homage to all those that did not return. We remember our fallen. Today because of what has happened recently in Afghanistan, us veterans are standing and we are letting people know that ‘We the People’ have had enough.”

The first three words in the Constitution are “We the People” and Cooper reminded everyone that it means all of us.

“We can’t be afraid anymore,” remarked Cooper. “We can’t be intimidated anymore. We need to ask our elected officials, our government, to do the right thing for this country.”

He expressed that there has been an average of 22 suicides within the veteran community a day and since the fall of Afghanistan the number has gone up. Due to the recent suicides within the local area, AVF has plans to create a new program called Veteran Strong which is a suicide prevention task force that will be separate from AVF and a new non-profit organization.

Whitfield is a combat veteran, sniper, Purple Heart, and Bronze Star recipient that served in the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. He addressed the guests and noted that it was a somber day to give a speech and that his wife is from New York City and her father was NYPD that responded on 9/11.

There were many points in the speech that Whitfield gave including some history about the conflicts that have shaped our country, the reason the fallen fought for this country, our American values, being a beacon of hope, not taking our freedoms for granted and being proud to be an American.

“They were not killed because they were white, black or brown, they were not killed because they are Christians, Jews, Muslims, or atheist, they were not killed because they are rich or poor, liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, male or female, gay or straight,” expressed Whitfield in part of his speech. “You see it was the very flag that they wore on their shoulders. It is the very idea, the very values that that flag represents, that is what the enemies of our country hate and that is what these cowards fear so very much.”

The speech was well delivered and was very moving, as it brought tears to some and also was followed by a loud steady round of applause.

“We’ve got issues we’ve got to resolve that is true but, my goodness, there are people circling outside the gates that hate Republicans and Democrats,” remarked Whitfield. “They don’t care. They want to snuff us out. There are countries that want that and criminal organizations and terrorist organizations that want that. We have been spoiled for a long time with safety and security. The ones that have not been outside of our country, which is the vast majority, they don’t get it.”

The 13 service members that were killed in Afghanistan were honored and remembered at the American Veterans First event on 9/11. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS
The new AVF President Josh Whitfield, center, took a photo opportunity with Stanislaus County District One Supervisor Buck Condit, CEO Duke Cooper, and friends. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS