Community Commentary: I lost my dad to war, but still have 'my vets'

Before the sun rises Friday, a group of volunteers will be preparing to serve breakfast to a special group of military veterans in Costa Mesa.

This breakfast would not be possible without support from the police chief, friends who volunteer and the monetary donations received to defer the personal expense for the cost of the food.

These veterans span four wars, as well as peacetime. You would never know that these men served in the military unless you too were a veteran and somehow the conversation came up. That military connection would most likely evolve into a life-long friendship.

For the past several years, America has really embraced our military and begun to recognize our veterans, mostly starting in the early 1990s with operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield. Vietnam veterans were not given the same respect.

That era came and went. And then we were attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.

Soon after, we sent troops into Afghanistan and then Iraq, and police departments began to allow U.S. flag and military service insignia pins on uniforms. Many veterans were excited to share that part of their personal history with one another and the public.

I was introduced to my first veterans in 1986 when I started working at the Costa Mesa Police Department. I was 19, just a little younger than my father was when he stepped foot in Vietnam in 1967. Sad to say he never stepped out, but was carried out when he was killed in action on May 5, 1968.

I was 13 months old.

The veterans I met at the Police Department were roughly the age my dad would have been. I was so excited to meet them because they were family men, professionals, respected. They weren't homeless, drug addicts or "baby-killers," as the media constantly portrayed them after the Vietnam War.

It was through the efforts of now-retired Costa Mesa Police Det. Danny Hogue that I was able to meet men who served with my dad.

He simply wrote a letter between 1986 and 1987, and it was placed in my dad's military records. In 1989, I received a letter and then the phone call I had been waiting for for many years. Over the course of the next four years I would meet about nine men who served with my dad, knew of my existence and wondered what had happen to that little 1-year-old girl in the photo. It was at that point that I bonded with "my vets."

I have known these veterans, and we have been able to keep in communication for more than 20 years, longer than my father lived. These men live all over the country. We were last together in 2004 at the dedication of Chervony Hall in Fort Sill, Okla.

Now back to the veterans, because this is really about them, not about me. I am not able to be with "my vets" on Veterans Day, but I honor them by hosting a breakfast to my co-workers, police volunteers and retirees. This year will mark the third Veterans Day when I honor those veterans whom I have worked with at the Police Department and for this day, they are all "my vets."

I take pleasure in looking at them come together, young and old, swapping stories not only about their military service, but also about what happens on Costa Mesa's streets.

People have asked why do you do this? Why do you spend your own money, why do you get up at 4 a.m., why do you spend your holiday doing this?

What I sacrifice does not compare with what our veterans have sacrificed. These veterans have sacrificed so much for my freedom — and for my country, whether it was in the jungles of Vietnam, the sands of Iraq, or the five Marines who retired, yes retired, from the Marine Corps, and then came to either work or volunteer for the Costa Mesa community. This is the least I can do.

So for one day, I feed them, and for the month of November I pay special tribute to the 43 Veterans by "showing them off" on a bulletin board in the front lobby of the Police Department.

It is very important to me to share with the public that these public servants began their service to America long before they came to Costa Mesa. These individuals who now serve our Costa Mesa community and wear the badge of the Costa Mesa Police Department were once soldiers, sailors, Marines, airman and coast guardsmen.

My dream would be that one day when I am long gone, this tradition will continue and encompass our entire city staff.

Veterans: "Thank you for your service."

JEANETTE CHERVONY is a community service specialist at the Costa Mesa Police Department and the Gold Star daughter of Sgt. Eddie Chervony, Killed in Action – Vietnam May 5, 1968.

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