Encinal students entertained the soldiers with a dance and musical performances, but the highlight was probably a basketball game that pitted Staff Sgt. Joshua Carson, Sgt. Stephen Pynn, Sgt. Rishaun Vieth, Cpl. Zackery Conyers, Spc. Franklin Smith and Spc. Eduardo Gomez against the fifth-grade boys basketball team.
With students, teachers, administrators, members of the Atherton Police Department and Atherton City Council member Elizabeth Lewis looking on, the Encinal Eagles squeezed out a victory over the soldiers, 17-15.
"They were having fun and being competitive," said Atherton Police Department Detective Jason Bollendorf, who is Atherton's Adopt-A-Unit coordinator.
The Encinal visit "was amazing — the energy between the soldiers and the kids," Detective Bollendorf said. "It's hard to tell who had more fun."
After the visit to Encinal School, the soldiers visited the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton. There they had lunch, and got a chance to ride some of the club's horses.
It was all part of a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the city of San Mateo adopting the Vietnam unit of Sgt. Joe Artavia, who had asked his older sister Linda if she could do something to help raise the morale of his unit at a time when much of the country had turned against the war. Linda convinced her hometown of San Mateo to adopt the unit just three weeks before Sgt. Artavia was killed in action.
Linda traveled to Vietnam to personally give the members of her brother's unit commemorative medals the city had made declaring each one an "adopted son" of San Mateo. There she met Lt. Steve Patterson, whom she later married. The Pattersons started a now-national organization, America Supporting Americans, that promotes the adoption of military units by communities.
Along with San Mateo and Atherton, Burlingame, Hillsborough, Foster City, Millbrae, Belmont, San Bruno and San Carlos have all adopted units of the 101st Airborne.
In addition to 50 members of the units who attended the 50th anniversary celebration, 40 Vietnam veterans from Joe Artavia's unit were there, along with Linda and Steve Patterson, who now live in Southern California.
Events included a parade in San Mateo on March 24, and a commemorative service and the laying of a wreath on the grave of Sgt. Artavia at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno.
"Everybody involved, the soldiers, the community members, everybody who met these guys — it was an incredible experience," Detective Bollendorf said.
He said the town will continue to provide for the members of its unit, which is on standby for deployment. "It's going to be hard work to take care of these guys, make sure they have what they need when they go out in the field," he said.
To learn more about Atherton's adopt-a-unit program, or to make a donation, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 650-752-0556.
The website for America Supporting Americans, http://www.asa-usa.org, has more information about that program.
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