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A Hangar Holiday in Tustin : Marines Narrow Yuletide Gulf a Bit

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The elves in red and green gave 3-year-old Toni Alexis Hernandez toys and treats at a Christmas party in the blimp hangar at the Marine base here Saturday. But they couldn’t give her what she really wanted.

“What she told Santa she wants for Christmas is to have her Daddy home,” said Toni’s mother, Jeanna Hernandez, 24. Toni’s father, Cpl. Anthony A. Hernandez, 23, has been in the Persian Gulf since August.

The Yellow Ribbon Christmas Party was organized by volunteers to make the holidays a little nicer for families of Marines away in Operation Desert Shield. Organizers said they hope that the presents would also help some families in a financial pinch, caused by the loss of second jobs.

Hernandez--who also has a 15-month-old daughter, Sofia, and another baby on the way--had to quit her job waiting tables because her husband is not here to help watch the children.

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“This is really nice because the toys they got will be among the few things under the tree that aren’t a necessity,” she said.

The party was also a thank-you to Marine families for the sacrifices they are making for their country, organizer Toni Kay said.

“We want you to know we support you. . . . We love you and we appreciate you,” Kay said.

About 2,000 children attended the party, which featured refreshments, clowns, jugglers, magicians and face-painting. They sat on olive-green folding chairs listening to music, lined up to have pictures taken with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and visited Santa and Mrs. Claus, who arrived on a red firetruck and held court atop a sleigh.

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The transformation of the blimp hangar to a Christmas wonderland took the work of dozens of volunteers, some of whom spent most of Friday night blowing up balloons and decorating. Even the CH53-E Super Stallion helicopter parked in the hangar was adorned with a wreath.

The party was organized by members of the Irvine Spectrum Rotary Club, formed just two months ago. Countless other volunteers from local churches, groups and businesses also donated time, along with refreshments, toys and other items, Kay said.

“The support that the military is getting hasn’t happened in this country since World War II,” said Maj. John L. Sayre, director of the Family Service Center at Marine Corps Air Station El Toro. “I think this is indicative of a new feeling in the U.S.”

The party was indicative of something else as well, said Debbie Guddeck, whose husband, William, was sent to Saudi Arabia three months ago: “It shows that the true spirit of Christmas is still around. People give and they care and they want to make people happy.”

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Video professionals from Orange and Los Angeles counties also volunteered time and equipment to tape groups of Marine families singing Christmas carols and to tape “video postcards.”

“I love you. I miss you,” Vicki Everhart told her husband, Staff Sgt. Steven Everhart, who left for the gulf on Aug. 18--the day before she gave birth to their third child, Danielle.

“He was supposed to come home Nov. 15, because he was going to be a drill instructor, and then they changed it to Dec. 1,” Everhart said.

Then she waited until three days before her husband was due to arrive before telling the children he was coming home--only to learn that night that his orders had been changed.

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“This one went around the house crying for two days,” she said, pointing to her son, Adam, 3.

Although it has been emotionally difficult for Melanie Alvarado ever since her husband left four months ago without a chance to say goodby to her and their daughters, Desirae, 8, and Brittany, 6, it has gotten even harder as Christmas draws near.

Staff Sgt. Billy Alvarado was given just 55 minutes’ notice before he shipped out for Bahrain. By the time Melanie Alvarado got to the base, her husband’s plane was taxiing away.

“I’m denying Christmas,” she said. “Thanksgiving was not too bad, but he does all kinds of daddy things at Christmas. He plays Santa and fills the stockings on Christmas Eve and decorates the house. He’s like a kid himself.”

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