Locals dedicated to having California ‘American-Portuguese’ veterans’ memorial placed at Capitol Park
By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
A group of Sacramento area residents who are dedicated to honoring the legacy of Portuguese-American military veterans recently gathered together to discuss efforts that are underway to place a California American Portuguese Veterans’ War Memorial at Capitol Park.
The meeting, which was held at the Cabrillo Club at 4605 Karbet Way on Aug. 27, was attended by 23 people, including members of the endeavor’s committee.
The committee’s members are Al Balshor, Gus Kanelos, Loretta Kanelos, Eddie Maria, Manuel Perry, Rod Rosa, Wesley Silva, Jim Souza and Monica Souza.
The purpose of the meeting, which was also attended by District 5 County Supervisor Don Nottoli, was to emphasize the need to gather pledges for the memorial and to present details about the memorial itself.
Kanelos is recognized as the committee member who brought forth the idea to create the memorial in honor of Portuguese-American war veterans.
The timing was right to push the project forward, Kanelos explained, who had a very Greek-American upbringing and is also part Portuguese.
“When I was president (of the American Portuguese Club of Sacramento) in about 1979, I brought (the memorial idea) up and we didn’t get too much enthusiasm,” he said. “Mr. (Al) Balshor, at the time, was one of the few people who were in favor of it. A lot of other people didn’t care. I said, ‘Hey, if you people don’t care, you’ll never know anything about the future and you’ll never know anything about the present unless you know all about your past.’ And boy, they started thinking that over what I told them. And I said, ‘Look, if you don’t remember where you came from and your ethnic tradition and you get into the present and you don’t follow through with them, how is your future generation going to react?’”
Nonetheless, as the saying goes, “timing is everything,” as it took three decades to arrive at the point that the memorial project is at today.
And fortunately for the sake of the project, Kanelos and Balshor continue to be motivated as two of the people at the helm of the project.
Kanelos said that one of the preliminary steps of the project was contacting John Ochoa, who helped lead the drive to have the California Mexican-American Veterans’ Memorial placed at Capitol Park.
“I contact John Ochoa and I said, ‘John, how did you guys establish your Mexican-American (veterans’) memorial?’ And he said, ‘I’ll send you a brochure, I’ll send you everything.’ We read about it and everything, and then John showed up and he took us step by step what to do and that’s what we’ve been doing. Our committee has been working diligently to see that this thing is going to happen.”
The arched-topped center piece of the green granite memorial, which will include American and Portuguese national flags and insignias of military service branches and the POW-MIA insignia, will stand 96 inches tall by 24 inches wide by 10 inches thick, and will be accompanied by two outside wing pieces, which will each measure 86 inches tall by 24 inches wide by 10 inches thick.
The base of the monument, which will be created by the Ruhkala Monument Co. of Sacramento, will be 10 inches tall by 96 inches wide by 16 inches deep.
A brass plaque will be imbedded in the memorial with the following words: “To all California American Portuguese veterans who sacrificed their lives for their country.” And below the plaque will be a portion of a poem written by Gus.
On the back of the memorial, on the center piece, will be sponsor names and a recognition of the American Portuguese Club of Sacramento’s involvement with the project.
And on the back sides of the memorial’s wing pieces will be the names of Portuguese-American military veterans.
Balshor said that adding to his motivation to dedicate time to the memorial project is his plan to have his late brother’s name placed on the plaque.
“My brother (Joseph) was an infantry medical man (during World War II),” Balshor said. “He was in Africa and then through Africa, he went into Italy, where he was killed. I believe he was in a fox hole and he got hit by a grenade. It was on January 13, (1944) when he got killed and I was (serving in the Army) at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey ready to embark for England. (Joseph) died fighting for his country and he would be honored to have his name on the (memorial).”
Rosa said that the memorial includes the term, “American-Portuguese,” as opposed to “Portuguese-American,” for a particular purpose.
“We’re Americans first and Portuguese second,” Rosa said. “We are Americans, we came to this country, we integrated into the society and we didn’t ask for any special favors. We’re hard working and we’re very successful and we’re grateful and thankful to this country for the opportunities that it has given the Portuguese community. They all came over here with an expectation of a better livelihood for themselves and their families and separated from their families for many years until they got established and they brought them over little by little. They came here to work, not to get on the government dole, so we’re very proud of our heritage.”
Maria, who graduated from Kennedy High School in 1987 and serves as the committee’s chairman, said that his grandfather and father were American military veterans. And he added that he enjoys “being a part of something that allows generations to see what people of American-Portuguese descent did for this country.”
Rosa added that he is confident that it is only a matter of time before the public can visit the California American Portuguese Veterans’ War Memorial at Capitol Park.
“I’m on the committee, I support the (project) and I think (the memorial) is a great tribute to all the Portuguese(-Americans) who served our country,” Rosa said. “We’ve gone through all the processes and the monument has been pretty much defined what it’s going to be. So, right now, we’re just looking for sponsorships. We’re just getting started and we’ve already got a lot of sponsors, so we’re pretty optimistic. It’s going to get done.”
The dedication ceremony for the memorial is tentatively scheduled to be held in June 2012 during California Portuguese Heritage Month.
Thus far, the project is on tract to reaching its $35,000 goal, which includes maintenance and upkeep costs.
Individual sponsorships of $500 and corporate sponsorships of $1,000 are currently being accepted for the memorial project.
Checks for these tax deductible donations should be made payable to California American Portuguese Veterans’ War Memorial or CAPVWM and sent to 2661 Riverside Blvd., Sacramento, CA 95818.
The next meeting regarding the memorial will be held at the Cabrillo Club on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. Doors will open at 6 p.m. for a social hour with refreshments.