A Place of Reverence- San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery

It is a quiet place.  It is a place of reverence, respect, and remembering.

San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, Santa Nella, CA.  Photo by Steve Newvine

San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery, Santa Nella, CA.  Photo by Steve Newvine

There are people who have a soft spot in their heart for cemeteries.  Growing up, I remember my grandparents and parents were always making sure we paid our respects to family members who had passed.  

Gravesites were well maintained.  Flowers and plants were placed around the markers all the time.  When visiting the places where close family members were laid to rest, we often took the time to say a short silent prayer.

I thought my family was a little different from others in regard to their feelings about these hallowed grounds.  

That was until I talked to other adults over the years.   

One friend told me that she would take a bag lunch to the family cemetery and spend an extended period of time there.  

When the Merced Cemetery Association asks for volunteers every Memorial Day weekend to help place crosses on graves, they are overwhelmed with people wanting to do something to help make our local cemetery look nice.

Merced County can claim some truly sacred ground in the over three-hundred acres that form the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery in Santa Nella.  

The highest peak in the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery offers a wide vista of the Valley.  Picture: Steve Newvine

The highest peak in the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery offers a wide vista of the Valley.  Picture: Steve Newvine

If you haven’t been there, you should consider going.  If you have been there, you will likely never forget the experience.

Two friends of my wife and I are buried there.  

For well over a year, we had been meaning to take the ride out from our home in Merced to the Cemetery.  It finally happened for me on a sunny late winter day.

From the north or south, signs on Interstate 5 let you know that the Cemetery is off the Santa Nella exit, and smaller signs take you from the exit ramp to the road that leads there.   

You think twice when you see there are another three miles to go, but as you pass a massive solar panel array and come upon the grounds, you instantly realize these extra miles off the beaten path of I-5 is worth the effort.

The Administrative Office is the main structure on the property.  Inside during business hours, a staff person can assist by telling you exactly where the grave you are looking for is located on the grounds.  

But there’s much more going on at this Cemetery than the over thirty-thousand graves.

From the Observation point at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

From the Observation point at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Photo:  Steve Newvine

The highest point on the grounds is the observation point.  From here, you can see the entire Cemetery with the added bonus of an incredible vista of the San Joaquin Valley.  

The land for this final resting place was donated by a ranch company in 1989.  Agricultural land and a solar farm surround the Cemetery footprint.

The Californian Korean War Memorial lists the name of every soldier from California who served in that war.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

The Californian Korean War Memorial lists the name of every soldier from California who served in that war.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

Closer to the Administration Building, there’s the Korean War Veterans Memorial.  The circular stone tableau lists the names of twenty-five hundred soldiers: every soldier from California who served in the Korean War.  

Like many of the memorials on the grounds, funds were raised by veterans groups, clubs, corporations, and individual donations.

A memorial to sixty-five submarines lost in battle by the US during World War II.  The trees line the road median coming into the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

A memorial to sixty-five submarines lost in battle by the US during World War II.  The trees line the road median coming into the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery.  Picture:  Steve Newvine

Dividing the roadway heading to and from the Administration building is a line of trees.  This line of sixty-five trees represents the United States Veterans World War II Memorial.  

Each tree represents a submarine lost in action during World War II.

Across from the Administration Building, there’s a statue representing the Airborne Soldier.  The brass base of the statue reminds the visitor of the “unsurpassed courage” of these soldiers.

I thought I’d spend ten minutes on the grounds.  I would pay my respects to the two friends whose bodies are buried there and then head back on the road.  

I stayed for about a half hour and promised myself to spend more time on a future visit.

Among the memorials at the Cemetery, there’s a piece of granite with the words of a poem that honors those who have passed.  

Part of it reads:

"Do not stand at my grave and weep.

I am not here.  I do not sleep.

I am the thousand winds that blow,

I am the diamond glints on snow."

Cemeteries can have a calming effect on us.  

They are peaceful, quiet, and at times even prayerful.  

At a visit to Arlington National Cemetery a few years ago, I was overwhelmed by the sense of pride I felt for the way we honor those who served in the military.  

The San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery matches that same feeling.  

As we honor those who paid the ultimate price in protecting our freedoms later this spring, consider spending part of a day at this very special place.

It is a place where you can listen to your heart.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

In the spring of 2017, he is once again presenting classes on soft skills to participants in the Love Plus skills and mentoring program sponsored by Love INC of Greater Merced.  The classes are based on his book Soft Skills for Hard Times.

The Soundtrack of our Future on the UC Merced Campus

Construction Project is Well Underway

On any weekday at the University of California at Merced Campus, there’s a distinct sound in the background.  It’s the noise from construction equipment moving earth and creating the long awaited 20/20 building project.

The 20/20 Construction Project at the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The 20/20 Construction Project at the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The sound is what you might expect from any construction site.  It can be the “beep-beep” of a heavy-duty truck backing up.   Or it could be the grinding of earthmovers as they carve into this one-time farmland.   

Way off in the distance, you might hear construction workers shouting directions as they guide the machines to the right places.

These are the sounds of an active construction site.  But for the students and staff at the UC campus, it is just another day.

“We hardly notice,” one student told me when I asked whether the noise bothered her.  Another student responded, “Until you mentioned it, I wasn’t even aware of it.”  

From the third floor of the UC Merced Engineering Building, the vastness of the 20/20 project becomes very real.  Photo by Steve Newvine

From the third floor of the UC Merced Engineering Building, the vastness of the 20/20 project becomes very real.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The 20/20 Project was approved by the local governments shortly after land use, annexation, and tax sharing agreements were agreed upon.  

As the sign along the walkway to the main campus spells out, the project will encompass one-point-two million square feet, include three new research laboratory buildings, seventeen-hundred new beds of student housing, fifteen-hundred parking spaces, a conference center, wellness facility, recreation field, and a new entrance at Bellevue Road at Lake Road.  

The buildings will be built to one of the highest energy efficient construction standards.

A construction fence keeps debris and dust from a busy walkway on the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

A construction fence keeps debris and dust from a busy walkway on the UC Merced campus.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 

The project cost is one-point-three billion dollars.  The first phase is slated to be opened in the fall of 2018.  The second and third phases will open in succeeding years.

From the perspective of the students attending UC Merced, the timeline could look like this:  a freshman entering next fall (2017) could possibly go to a class in one of the new structures by the time he or she becomes a sophomore.

That same student will enjoy the results of most of the full three phases of this project before he or she graduates in 2021.

 The pastoral landscape off Lake Road will continue to change as the 20/20 project moves along.  Photo by Steve Newvine

 The pastoral landscape off Lake Road will continue to change as the 20/20 project moves along.  Photo by Steve Newvine

In addition to the work on the Lake Road main campus, downtown Merced is experiencing one of the largest construction projects in its history.  

UC Merced’s new Downtown Center is adding nearly seventy-thousand gross square feet of office space to the area across the street from City Hall.  

The three-story building is slated to open later this year.  

It will consolidate leased office space from around the community under one roof.  Conference and seminar rooms are part of that building plan.

Back on the main campus, the magnitude of the 20/20 project is stunning.  On a recent visit to UC Merced, I was taken aback by the sheer size of the construction footprint.  

It looks as though a second campus of the same size as the current one is being created before the eyes of everyone who takes in the view.  I was not in the community when the original campus was under construction, but this new project can give one the idea of what it must have looked like as machines ruled over the land and the buildings and infrastructure were constructed.  

Steve Newvine

Steve Newvine

It’s much like it must have been back when the campus was new- only this time there are thousands of students and hundreds of staff members around to see and hear it.  

And that takes you back to the sound:  the din of graders, bulldozers, and backhoes making progress at our UC Merced.  

Some would call it the sound of progress. Others might call it the soundtrack of our future.

Steve Newvine lives in Merced

Livingston Historical Society Museum-Big Things in a Small Building

The Livingston Historical Society Museum is not a very big building.  But it holds a lot of things that tell quite a story about this small northern Merced County City and its role in shaping life in the San Joaquin Valley.

Livingston Historical Society Museum, Livingston, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Livingston Historical Society Museum, Livingston, Merced County.  Photo by Steve Newvine

My interest in the museum was first sparked by a brief newspaper item several months ago that thanked volunteers and encouraged the public to visit.  

While the museum will open for special tours, or even a casual visit, the official hours are Sunday’s noon to two.  I thought a museum that was only open officially for two hours a week probably has a story or two to tell.

So I called Barbara Ratzlaff, the president of the Livingston Historical Society, and asked for a visit.  Barbara, who prefers people call her Babs, set up the appointment and met me on location.

Late in the afternoon following a long day on the road for my regular job, I stopped in and took a memorable tour.

Telephone operator’s station display at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Telephone operator’s station display at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

An early item of interest was this telephone operator’s station.  Livingston had its own telephone company going back to the 1940s.  

The company is now owned by Frontier Communications and functions as a local phone service.

A local resident told me at least one long-time citizen has kept her family phone number ever since 1947.

There is an American Flag on the wall of a meeting room in the back of the building.  The flag has only forty-five stars and is believed to have been given to the City in commemoration of the nation’s forty-fifth state.  

By the way, the forty-fifth state is Utah.

I saw a display of black and white photographs depicting the visit by then Governor Earl Warren to the City from 1950.   

The Governor was running for reelection.  Governor Warren would win a third term, but he did not complete that term in Sacramento.  His tenure at the Governor’s mansion was interrupted when President Eisenhower appointed him to Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

Japanese internment artifacts at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Japanese internment artifacts at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.  Photo by Steve Newvine

The museum’s devotes a considerable amount of its limited space to telling the story of the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II.  

Many Japanese citizens worked in the fields in and around Livingston.  Many of these citizens owned property.  Internment took many people away to camps in nearby Fresno and Stockton.  

The Museum collection includes a suitcase used by one family as they packed what would fit and took it with them to an internment camp.  Other displays include newspaper accounts, photographs, and posters.

The Japanese Internment displays at the Livingston Historical Society Museum feature this box that likely held possessions of an intern gathered before being sent to one of the camps- Photos by Steve Newvine

The Japanese Internment displays at the Livingston Historical Society Museum feature this box that likely held possessions of an intern gathered before being sent to one of the camps- Photos by Steve Newvine

The internment story takes several pages and is sourced to over two-hundred articles and books on Wikipedia.  The Livingston Museum does not attempt to cover the entire story, but it does help the visitor understand to some degree what life might have been like for the Japanese who endured the internment era, and those who returned to resume their lives in Merced County after the War ended.

There is an internment memorial on the Merced County Fairgrounds in the City of Merced.  In Livingston, the primary memorial for this part of the community’s history rests behind the walls of this little building on 604 Main Street in Livingston.

The building opened in 1922 as a County Library and Justice Court.  Then California Governor William D. Stephens attended the groundbreaking ceremony held in March of that year.

While the Museum is not very big, it holds a lot of stories.  It’s a place for volunteers like Babs Ratzlaff, many who have lived in Livingston all their lives, to help share this history was younger generations of interested visitors.

It is a small building with a big story.

To arrange a tour of the Livingston Historical Society Museum, call Babs Ratzlaff at 209-394-2376

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  He’s written Grown Up, Going Home, a look at his home town of Port Leyden, New York where he details some of that community’s historical events.

Merced County’s Medal of Honor Recipient- Jon R. Cavaiani

When Jon came over to the United States from his native Great Britian, he was reunited with his stepfather and lived in Ballico, Merced County.  

Jon Cavaiani (left) at a ceremonial function.  Photo from Military.com)

The year was 1953 when Jon was just six years old.  He was adopted by that stepdad in 1961.  

Jon became a naturalized American citizen in 1968.  

Like many young men of that age at that time, he went into the military and fought in the Vietnam War.

Jon was Jon R. Cavaiani.  Staff Sergeant in the US  Army.

 He was a brave soldier, a distinguished leader of men, a prisoner of war, and a recipient of our nation’s highest military honor:  The Congressional Medal of Honor.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is awarded to soldiers who displayed heroism and valor on the battlefield.  Jon’s story of bravery follows that pattern.

According to the Medal of Honor website, Jon was serving as a platoon leader providing security for a radio relay site on the morning of June 4, 1971 when the site was targeted by Vietnamese enemy fire.  

To direct his platoon’s fire and rally his group of soldiers, Jon moved around the attack site often in the line of oncoming bullets.  When it became clear the entire platoon would be evacuated, Jon volunteered to remain on the ground to direct the helicopters onto a landing zone.

 Intense enemy fire forced him to stay at the camp overnight to direct the other remaining troops as they held off the enemy.  There were more acts of bravery as a heavy barrage attacked the next day.  

At one point, Jon got a machine gun, stood up again facing enemy fire, and fired away as his remaining troops were able to escape.

Through Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s valiant efforts with complete disregard for his safety, the majority of the remaining platoon members were able to escape. While inflicting severe losses on the advancing enemy force, Staff Sergeant Cavaiani was wounded numerous times. Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and intrepidity at the risk of his life, above and beyond the call of duty, were in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself and the U.S. Army.
— Part of Staff Sergeant Cavaiani’s Medal of Honor Citation

He was wounded several times in those two intense days, but returned to the battlefield.  

Within months, he was captured and spent two years as a prisoner of war.

He was released in 1973.  He took on other assignments, graduated from a culinary arts program in Columbia, and lived there with his wife.  In 2010 he was the grand marshal in a Vietnam Veterans Parade in Sonora sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 391.  

He was a member of that chapter.He lost a battle with cancer in 2014.  An effort to find a bone marrow donor and to help pay medical expenses was launched in the months leading up to his death.  That effort was detailed on the website Military.com.  

From that web story, the reader learns a little more about Jon the man.  He rarely talked about his Medal of Honor, but wore it at least once in the years following his retirement from the Army in 1990.  

He was remembered as a quiet and humble leader.

Jon is one of 3,498 recipients of the Medal of Honor.  

There is some history about his life and military service available at the Livingston Historical Society Museum.   Thanks to the Medal of Honor website and Wikipedia, this Merced County hero’s story is out there for the rest of the world to see.

As we honor our veterans again with the parades, services, and activities such as the Field of Honor at Merced College, spend a few moments to think about the heroic acts men and women like Jon Cavaiani did on the battlefields of America’s wars.

He was Merced County’s Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Jon R. Cavaiani.  

We thank him for his sacrifice, and we thank all our soldiers for their service.

Congressional Medal of Honor website:  www.cmohs.org

For more on the Livingston Historical Society Museum, call:  394-2376

Steve Newvine lives in Merced and has written the book Finding Bill about his uncle who served in the Vietnam War.

 

 

Merced Radio Station KYOS to Mark 80th Anniversary in October

If you listen to local AM radio station KYOS (1480 on the dial, 1480kyos.com on the internet), you have probably heard an announcer proudly announce at the top of each hour that the station has been serving Merced since 1936.

K97.5 Program Manager Dave Luna’s voice is heard on station promotional announcements for KYOS.  Photo by Steve Newvine

On October 13, the station will reach a historic milestone:  eighty years on the air.

The station began serving the city of Merced from a studio in the Hotel Tioga.  It was a daytime station at that time.  It would sign-on (a term that comes from a broadcasting regulatory requirement that a radio operator sign a program and engineering log) every morning and then sign-off at sunset.  

It began with a relatively low-powered signal that could cover the city.  In later years, the station’s signal was boosted so it could cover Merced County.  The broadcast day eventually would be lengthened to 24-hours.

Throughout Merced’s history in the twentieth century and so far into these early years of the new century, the community has seen a multitude of change.  One constant has been the AM radio station that has continuously been the voice of the community for eighty years.

Another constant for close to half of those eighty years has been radio announcer Dave Luna.  He’s the Program Manager and morning personality for K97.5, the FM sister station owned by Radio Merced’s parent company Mappleton Communications.  

Dave listened to KYOS as a teen growing up in Newman in Stanislaus County.  He went to work for the station part time beginning in 1979 and has worked for the various owners of the broadcast group that includes KYOS full time since leaving college.

 A bumper sticker from the heyday of station KYOS.  Photo from KYOS.

“KYOS was the big top forty rock-and-roll station in Merced,” Dave told me from his K97.5 studio on Main Street in Merced.  “It’s what all of us listened to in those days.”

Dave says he moved to the FM side of the house as more and more listeners gravitated away from AM stations.  His time with KYOS follows a pattern that is close to a history of AM radio in the United States.  

“AM radio is tough,” he says.  “Some AMs have just shut down, some are hoping news and talk will save them. “

KYOS runs satellite driven programming of news and talk radio Monday through Friday.  Weekend programming includes some public service programs and an oldies format with music from the fifties, sixties, and seventies.  

An early broadcast home to KYOS.  Picture from KYOS

One can only imagine what those early years for KYOS were like.  Radio was still a relatively new communication medium.  While there were network shows like The Jack Benny Program or Fibber McGee and Molly, Merced audiences likely were drawn to local programs.  

As music became the primary program source for radio in the years following the start of television, stations like KYOS found their new niche and were big players in local communities.

“I remember driving by the KYOS studio at the corner of 18th and Main when I was a teen,” Dave Luna recalls.  “You could see the thunderbird logo on the building and the announcer through the large glass window.  My buddies and I would wave and the announcer might wave back.”

Those were glorious times that have faded somewhat for local radio in the advent of large corporate ownership, changing listener tastes, and automation.

The iconic thunderbird logo on the KYOS studio at G and 18th Streets in Merced. Photo from KYOS

But KYOS has survived.  It may not be the powerhouse it was in the fifties, sixties, and seventies, but it has carved out an audience that prefers news and talk.  

For many loyal audience members, it is a station they are familiar with and a place they feel comfortable listening to on a regular basis.

There are no special plans to commemorate the milestone KYOS will soon mark.  While the station’s eightieth anniversary may be just around the corner, the focus in radio is always on the future.  

And what will the station look like in twenty years when a one-hundredth anniversary may be in order?

Radio now is still connecting with listeners who don’t want to pay for satellite services - Stations like K97.5 connect with our audience not only on the airwaves but also through social media.
— Dave Luna

Local radio competes in a marketplace filled with many outlets for people to inform and entertain themselves.  

Successful staff people, like Dave Luna with his over thirty-five-year tenure with the station, have found success by being resourceful and by being adaptable to changes in the work environment.

“I learned some valuable lessons from my dad about work ethic,” he says.  “I have adapted and will continue to adapt as radio evolves.”  

Dave Luna keeps rock and roll photos and vintage album covers on the studio wall at the Radio Merced offices on Main Street in Merced.  Photo by Steve Newvine

Dave has seen a lot of change in his years with KYOS and K97.5.  For him, the most drastic shift came when the Castle Air Force Base closed in the mid-1990s.  

He said it was common when the Base was in operation to see many military people walking down Main Street in Merced on a weekday.  

Those days are gone, but new days are on the horizon.  A radio station that broadcast the news of the United States entering World War II, the election of a dozen presidents, the moon landing, and so many other iconic events, continues to inform and entertain listeners in and around Merced County.

Happy eightieth anniversary to KYOS!

Steve Newvine lives in Merced.  

He’s written Sign On at Sunrise, a novel about a young man who works at an AM radio station in the 1970s.    

Steve worked part time at radio station WBRV in Boonville, New York in the 1970s.  That station recently marked its sixty-first anniversary.