A small but motivated group formed after a 50th Terra Nova High School reunion had former classmates talking about a permanent, tranquil place for a local veterans memorial.
Two Army vets, Rich Jasso and Mike Jelinsky, joined Patti Hawker and Barbara Petersen to design a monument memorial. Together, they founded the Pacifica Veterans Memorial Group. All felt the deep sense of loss for their fallen classmates and others who perished in a war zone since Pacifica’s incorporation in 1957.
Jelinsky lived in Pacifica from 1953 to 1969 when he went off to West Point for college. He took many Army assignments after that, retiring as a major general who served in Desert Storm. He lives in Greenbrae, Wisconsin, where he is now restoring his house, which was built in 1860. He is still active with the Boy Scouts, as he was in Pacifica. A grandparent now, he comes back to Pacifica to visit his mom.
“These are the kids we grew up with, our classmates. There had never been a permanent memorial for these kids in Pacifica since Pacifica was incorporated. We wanted to have something permanent to honor our friends and classmates,” Jelinsky said.
“This project is done for the memory of the people who died,” he said. “Monument contributions came from friends and relations. It was a grassroots effort.”
Jasso was a Specialist 4, U.S. Army Medical Corp., stationed stateside at two hospitals, Brooks Army Medical Center in Texas and at Letterman Hospital in the Presidio. A retired flooring contractor, he works part time for the San Francisco Giants. He is active with music at his church, St. Andrew Presbyterian, and in other community organizations.
Since the traveling Vietnam memorial wall came to Pacifica 17 years ago, Jasso thought Pacifica needed something like that, but more permenant. He approached his former classmates at the 2019 reunion to tell them of his dream.
“We want a permanent place in a tranquil settling. The American Legion has a place where we can remember these guys, the first born and bred Pacificans who went to war,” he said.
The only prerequisite to be included is to be born and attend high school in Pacifica. Jasso did a lot of research. The families of the survivors provided information for part of the exhibit, with biographies penned by Pacifica writer Jean Bartlett.
“We wanted to have a written story on each person on the monument to give a personality to it and something else to give back to the families,” Jelinsky said.
COVID-19 restrictions interfered with the original plan to unveil the monument in a dedication event on Veterans Day last week. The group raised $13,000 through the efforts of Petersen, but they still need $6,000 for the installation, concrete contractor and landscaping.
“We are glad we have more time,” Jasso said. “Congresswoman Jackie Speier donated. It will be a big deal and we want to do it the right way. We want it to look great.”
Petersen and Hawker coordinated the fundraising efforts.
Petersen retired from the Pacifica School where she taught kindergarten. Now, she helps with distance learning for her grandchildren, and bikes and hikes. She belongs to the Sharp Park Businesswomen’s Golf Club, which plays weekly at Sharp Park Golf Course.
She was moved to help fund a memorial because she lost a dear friend, Dave McKay.
“I still have the letters he wrote to me from Vietnam. Having also been part of the peaceful marches protesting the war in the early 1970s, I recall the pain and confusion regarding the loss of so many young men but also the harsh response many of our soldiers were experiencing when they came home from Southeast Asia,” she said. “I have always felt that the families of those soldiers may not have been accorded the respect and sincere gratitude from the public that their deceased young men deserved.
“The American Legion adopted our vision and has provided much-needed support and a place to install the monument,” she said. “They have been extremely helpful in facilitating this effort.”
Hawker, retired from a career in the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma counties, volunteered in Napa for a teachers exchange and a food bank. She lost several friends in Vietnam, including McKay, Bob Compton and Johnny White.
“As a naive, peace-loving ‘hippy’ chick, this was my first experience with war and veterans. Vietnam veterans often had items thrown at them, were spit on and were called all kinds of nasty names. This injustice must be reversed, and the veterans should receive the honor and support they so rightly deserve, then and now.
“This memorial will hopefully allow some just closure for
many friends and family members,” she said. “While I don’t support the wars, I do honor the veterans.”