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California Service Members Memorialized Through Display
Local American Veterans First CEO Duke Cooper of Oakdale looks at some of the notes left as part of a new display honoring the California residents who have been lost in the War on Terror since 2001; among them, Navy Corpsman James Ray Layton, directly above the notes. Layton grew up in Riverbank and graduated from Vista High School in Escalon. Marg Jackson/The News

He grew up in Riverbank and graduated from Vista High School in Escalon in 2005. In 2009, he lost his life in service to this country, killed in action while serving as a Navy Corpsman in Afghanistan.

Now, James Ray ‘Doc’ Layton is among the California service members memorialized in a new exhibit, on display at the American Veterans First facility at 6436 Oakdale Road in Riverbank.

Layton was just 22 years old when he gave his life; he was tending the wounds of an injured Marine when both of them were struck and killed in Kunar province, during an ambush by insurgents.

AVF CEO Duke Cooper of Oakdale said Layton is one of the many California residents remembered; all those included have given the ultimate sacrifice.

“We must never forget,” Cooper said, noting that AVF is planning an Open House within the next few weeks for the newly set up display, which is a ‘traveling’ exhibit but will have its home base in Riverbank.

“There have been 780 Californians, just Californians, lost since 9-11,” Cooper explained. “These people gave all. Freedom is not free … and this to me proves it.”

All branches of the military are represented and the names and faces range from residents of Rio Vista to Merced, Stockton to Pleasanton, Dixon to Turlock and beyond.

“It just brings it home,” Cooper said of the display, putting faces to the news stories; showing the human cost of war.

He said the display can be a teaching tool for school children, a wall of history. He also said the families of those featured in the memorial can hopefully take some small comfort in knowing that “Their people are not forgotten.”

The display was previously featured in Palo Alto and also spent some time in nearby Manteca … Cooper said he hopes local residents will take the time to visit the AVF facility to see the display and learn about the various programs and services provided there. He said they remain operational with no paid staff, and have a variety of services for local veterans of all ages, from help preparing resumes to PTSD counseling.

“We’re open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” he said of the AVF site.

The organization is also marking its first year at the Oakdale Road building, having moved to the much larger facility from a location along Patterson Road in Riverbank in early 2021.

An open house is being planned for a new tribute set up at the Riverbank location of American Veterans First, with photos and information about all of the California service members killed in action since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Marg Jackson/The News