Exeter Soldier Plaque Dedication

FRESNO, Calif.

Orlando Meza served in Iraq with the Army National Guard. He made it through a full tour but later drowned in May of 2009.

After his death, a friend of his asked the Exeter city council to design a plaque in his memory. And Saturday, in front of dozens of people, that plaque was revealed for the first time.

With family and friends looking on, the Army National Guard paid a solemn tribute in Exeter Saturday to Iraqi war veteran Orlando Meza.

After serving a full tour in Iraq, Meza returned to his home town of Exeter back in April of 2009.

But, just a few weeks later, he drowned in Madera County's Chiquita Creek while trying to save two friends who had fallen in.

Those who served with Meza say they're not surprised by his heroism. "What he did for his friends is the same thing he would do in Iraq. There would be no difference."

"He didn't die in combat. He died here in the states basically doing the same thing, saving the lives of the citizens he swore to protect."

Although more than a year has passed since his death, no one in this community has forgotten Meza.

The city council voted unanimously to dedicate a special plaque to the 21-year-old which his family unveiled during Saturday's ceremony.

The plaque was placed on a memorial originally built for Daniel Unger, an Exeter native who died while fighting in Iraq back in 2004.

Exeter's pro-tem mayor, Jack Allwardt says like Unger, Meza is a hero and this plaque represents eternal gratitude.

"Here's a young man who spent a full tour in Iraq, survived it, and then comes here, comes home within a month, and he's out rescuing some friends and he dies."

And so this plaque will forever remain next to that of another hometown hero so no one will soon forget the sacrifices each made.

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