by Jonathan Corral
photography by Emmah Obradovich
Tears roll down a mother’s cheek while she sits behind her desk. The tears of joy and sadness come with the forbidden thought of tragedy. Knowing her loved one is thousands of miles away weighs heavy on her heart. Knowing she only has the opportunity to spend two weeks with her son before he is shipped off for another three-year mission brings a sense of bonding urgency. This has become reality for her and many other families in the city of La Verne.
The War in Iraq has hit the heart of many families with furious anger, resentment and sadness. Carla Sullivan, La Verne’s community services superintendent, deals with these feelings on a daily basis as her 19-year old son is serving this country proudly in the United States Air Force, stationed over seas in Okinawa, Japan. With many other families dealing with the same feelings, the tribute became a reality.
Pure satisfaction comes to her face knowing she has produced such a heart-felt tribute to the brave soldiers from La Verne and their families across the city. “At first I and some of my colleagues were talking about how many times we don’t pay tribute to the brave soldiers until they have died or been hurt,” Sullivan says. “So we came up with the idea that ‘Why not pay tribute to them when they are still alive, fighting for our freedom.’”
Sullivan has begun the tribute to the troops with a three-part program, hoping to make an impact on the troops and the families with her special program. The city of La Verne’s tribute to the troops starts with a special display case, located at City Hall, with the photos of the troops, their branch of the military they are serving and their rank. Currently the case is becoming so full Carla has had to start laminating the pictures instead of using frames in order to save space.
To continue showing support and pride to the La Verne troops, Sullivan also started the Banner Recognition Program that was kicked off on Veterans’ Day 2004. The banners are spread across the streets of La Verne on different light poles and posts. Also, the families were each presented with a personalized banner at a City Council meeting, which they can display in their homes.
Another component of the program is the “Community Outreach Program” where community groups can write letters or send care packages to the troops.
“This really means a lot to me and my family and the community as well,” says Sullivan. “I am just amazed at the impact the program is having in such a short amount of time; even other cities in the area are calling me up, saying they want to do the same kind of program.”
With the program already a success, Sullivan says she has received many letters from the troops, thanking her and the city of La Verne for the tribute. Although all the letters have touched her, one particular letter from Marine Mathew D. DeMercado stands out.
Sent on a United States Marine Corps letter head, the letter reads:
Mrs. Carla Sullivan,
I am writing to you to express my thanks for your support. Living in a military town and serving overseas is hard because sometimes you don’t see that what you do is appreciated, because you are surrounded by men and women who do the same thing. Knowing that you have the support from your friends and family is the only thing that makes this job easy.
I love my job, and I am proud to do it, but without knowing that I am appreciated, this job would be impossible to do. Enclosed is a National Defense Ribbon. This was the first ribbon I received out of boot camp. It is given to all Marines, soldiers and sailors who serve during a time of war. I am giving it to you as a token of my thanks. Sometimes protecting our country isn’t a good enough reason to keep us going, and it is people like you that we do this job for. Once again, I thank you for your support.
Matthew Dan DeMercado
United States Marine Corps
“The letter really touched my heart in many ways,” says Sullivan, as more tears roll down her cheek. “I am just so happy that I am actually making a difference with the soldiers and their families. The program has really taken off, and it continues to get bigger every day. I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am to the entire La Verne community.”
Carla’s program has not only been heartfelt in the community, but it has made a huge difference in the daily lives of the soldiers’ families and the struggles they have to endure, day-after-day with having a family member in the military during these troubled times. “It really makes it easier for the whole family that the city Matthew grew up in is recognizing him as a hero for what he is doing for this country overseas,” his mother, Linda Ortega says. “He is very patriotic, and what he is doing really means a lot to him; he takes his job very seriously, and what Carla is doing has really had an impact on his life and ours as well.”
For people in society, daily routines such as watching television or reading the newspaper are never given a second thought. For Linda and her family, watching TV and reading the newspaper takes on a whole new meaning and feeling, a feeling that strikes fear and sadness into their minds and hearts.
“On a daily basis, it is really, really tough just thinking about the danger he is in,” Ortega says. “It is even tougher when the family turns on the TV or reads the newspaper because all you see is the bad stuff, talking about people dying, and stuff like that. But I’m in contact with him every couple of weeks, and he always lets me know he is fine.”
The support and appreciation has continued to pile into the office of Carla Sullivan with many more parents and families writing letters to her pouring their hearts out.
A letter that was written on Nov. 2, 2004, reads:
I wanted to express my gratitude for your thoughtfulness and for your effort toward those citizens within our community who have chosen to serve America.
I cherish the banner that I received last evening. It was an honor that I never imagined I would be participating in. After all, upon giving birth to my little Rosebud, the doctor said, and I quote, “It is a girl,” I loved this little baby from the moment I laid eyes on her.
As the days turned into years, my little love bug started to pursue her dreams. Although I was somewhat amazed by her choices, she has become a very focused young women. I feel so blessed and am so proud to be Rosie’s mother. Thank you so much for allowing me to express this to my fellows. Also, the feeling of unity I felt with my community in the offering of their love and support. Rosie was thrilled when I informed her that I had been invited to attend the City Hall meeting in her behalf.
So, although she was in attendance in spirit, I think Rosie will feel as if she were actually present if the picture of me were sent to her from the city of La Verne. She can share it with me upon her safe return to our homeland.
Mrs. Cathy Boykins
More tearful eyes would best describe the May 16 City Council meeting. Families and loved ones gathered with Mayor Jon Blickenstaff as each was paid tribute for their loved ones serving proudly in the military. Each family was given a personalized banner and the opportunity to address the floor. Tears were flowing as each member of the family told the audience how much this celebration meant to him or her. Families elaborated on how much it meant to the soldiers fighting in Iraq, and constant praise kept going to Carla Sullivan and her commemorative vision for the soldiers.
As the struggles continue in the Middle East, brave souls from the city of La Verne are putting themselves in harms way to fight for freedom. Programs like the Military Recognition Program give everybody hope for the future and faith that one day this world will be a better place.