At seven years old, Landon Gervase Mello may be the youngest altruist in the San Ramon Valley. From making wheelchair backpacks for Joni and Friends to selling lemonade to help Fresno Children's Hospital buy new equipment, Landon is looking out for the greater good.
But this weekend, the Vista Grande first grader raised money for a cause that is a little closer to home: a honorary paver stone for his grandfather, Captain Gervase "Gerry" Eckenrod, a WWII veteran.
"He's very important to me and he really saved our country," Landon said of Eckenrod, a highly decorated member of The Big Red One First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army who, among other things, stormed the beaches at Normandy.
Landon presented a plastic bag filled with cash to members of the All Wars Memorial board, Mayor Karen Stepper, family, friends and a very surprised Grandpa Gerry. Eckenrod's stone will be at the top of the memorial, in the same block as a paver in memory of President James Garfield.
"I sure am proud of Landon," said Eckenrod, 94. "When I look at him and think as young as he is, he certainly is gifted."
Eckenrod received four purple hearts -- by far, more than anyone he has met -- bronze and silver stars, as well as a distinguished service cross for extraordinary heroism in action while in Germany in 1944. He was wounded while storming the beaches of Sicily and at the D-Day invasion; a month later Eckenrod was wounded again while trying to take two German towns and was interned at a POW camp until April 1945.
"If I live to be 100 years old I won't forget this. You're a remarkable man and have an absolutely remarkable grandson," Councilmember Robert Storer told Eckenrod at Saturday's presentation. "Sometimes the kindness in this community is overwhelming and remarkable."
While both Eckenrod and Landon aren't lacking in noteworthy accomplishments, this is not a case of the apple falling far from the tree because the two aren't biologically related. Landon's father, Alan Mello, met Eckenrod and his wife Sherian while attending Fresno State University. Eckenrod was the Dean of Business at Fresno City College and "adopted" Mello into his family.
But for Mello, who has two brothers in the Marines and owns a business that often helps welcome home veterans, honoring men and women of the Armed Forces has long been a priority.
"Honoring troops is an important part of our lives. My wife and I tried to instill in (Landon) long ago the importance of honoring them, to know the importance of what they did and to thank them for their service," Mello said.
While Mello and his wife thought a commemorative stone would be a nice birthday present for Eckenrod, Landon brought the idea to the fruition after his grandmother died. Landon said he went to 190 houses, asking for one dollar and sometimes receiving 20.
"Most people now have forgotten what (veterans have) done but I'm bringing back that stuff by raising money," Landon said.
A Fresno resident, Eckenrod was invited to attend Danville's Fourth of July parade as a guest of honor but will instead spend the summer road tripping across Montana with his wife. Although he won't attend the annual parade or Memorial Day ceremony, Eckenrod did regale a few Danville residents with an unusual story about being a prisoner of war.
After receiving a leg wound while in Germany, Eckenrod faced the possibility of becoming an amputee when he met a particularly patriotic doctor.
"The German doctor said, 'Eckenrod, that's a German name. Once a German, always a German!' And he didn't amputate," Eckenrod said.
Residents can honor past, present and fallen veterans at the Memorial Day Celebration on Monday, May 30 at 10:30 a.m. Held at Oak Hill Park (3005 Stone Valley Road, Danville), there will be live music, entertainment and a special ceremony including guest speakers and tributes to past and present service members. Richard Burress, a WWII vet and part of the Iwo Jima campaign, will be the event's keynote speaker.
Visit www.vnvdv.com for more information.