In the Pipeline: Local team helps Marine in need

Cpl. Bradley Diaz is a 25-year-old firing range coach and Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton. Last week, he got a full dose of Huntington Beach hospitality and generosity, and I'm so happy that I was able to witness it.

Earlier this year, Diaz, who served in Afghanistan, was injured in a Jeep accident while driving on the base. It occurred on his daughter's second birthday, and the vehicle, the family car, was totaled.

Mark Biddle, a onetime active Marine who works at the Farmers Insurance Group, recently became interested in Operation Homefront, an organization that provides emergency assistance for U.S. military troops.

Biddle heard about Diaz, and the search was on for a vehicle to replace the Jeep.

Last week, at Gustafson Brothers auto repair shop in Huntington Beach, a car was presented to Diaz.

Biddle had approached the popular local company to see if it would do the needed repairs on a Honda that had been recovered for Diaz. As Monte Gaustad from Gustafson told me, it was a no-brainer.

"We're all about supporting the military, and we're a very pro-American company, so we were proud to get involved with this," Gaustad said.

I first heard about this from my friend Cynthia Varnell, who also works at Gustafson. She explained to me that Farmer's Insurance donated a "total loss" vehicle instead of selling it to a salvage yard, and because of a great working relationship with Gustafson, asked if the company would do the collision repair.

So Gustafson Brothers donated more than $7,000 in body work to fix up the Honda, which now looks brand new.

Parts were donated by local vendor LKQ and paint by PPG. Mel Craig, who heads up the Detailing Pros, gave the car a complete once-over. This was truly a local team effort.

Diaz was driven up to Huntington Beach by his sister and met by Biddle, Rod Windes and Bob Ruddy from Farmer's, along with several other local representatives and employees from the shop.

Modest and respectful when I spoke with him, Diaz expressed genuine thanks to all who made this possible. It wasn't until afterward that I heard about the severity of his accident and how close he came to losing his leg, which now has a two-foot long metal rod in it.

When asked about the incident, Diaz had offered no details but just smiled and shrugged it off — a testament to the toughness of these men and women who serve us so well.

Many in the military are unable to weather financial hardships. So it's especially great that organizations like Operation Homefront and Wounded Warriors step in to help. But when you see these local efforts, you also get a sense of how many of these mini-miracles are accomplished.

On another local note, it was interesting to see Diaz standing in front of the old End Café sign in the body shop. John Gustafson, who founded the auto body shop back in 1971, is the son of Alice and John Gustafson, who owned and operated famed local restaurants at the end of the Huntington Beach and in Central Park.

The artifacts mounted on the wall had been rescued just before the pier collapsed in the 1980s.


Author's Festival

Jan. 28 is the date of the annual authors festival in Huntington Beach, and the annual authors reception will be held from 2:30 to 5 p.m. at Huntington Beach Central Library, 7111 Talbert Ave.

This is a great chance to meet authors, pick up some signed books and watch the writing contest awards ceremony.

I will be one of the authors in attendance, along with my son, Charles, who will be making his first appearance at the event after having written his first book. We look forward to seeing you.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. Follow him on Twitter: @chrisepting.

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