For one Garden Grove police officer and guardsman, his two tours in Afghanistan were made more bearable by the constant stream of care packages, emails and letters from the city workers he left behind.
“They let us know we were missed and we had a place when we came back,” said Officer Ed DesBiens, speaking for fellow members of the California National Guard at a recent city council meeting.
At a time when increasing numbers of veterans struggle to adjust to civilian life and earn a living, Garden Grove bolsters active and retired military in a way that has earned it multiple awards.
A national veterans group, Forty & Eight, named Garden Grove the city of the year this year. It stands as the county’s first Purple Heart City, in recognition of the 41 Purple Heart recipients who live in the Big Strawberry. And its staff and Police Chief Kevin Raney recently earned kudos from the California National Guard.
For DesBiens, and others like him, the city’s support has meant more than warm wishes. During deployments, it shored up their pay, bridging the difference between city and military salaries. Throughout their tours, their health and pension benefits continued.
It’s a policy that was put in place after 9/11 and one that exceeds legal requirements. It’s also one that stayed in place even while DesBiens and five other officers were called up in 2009 and 2010, further straining the police department’s scant resources.
“These are people who put their lives on the line,” said Bill Dalton, the city’s outgoing mayor. “There’s nothing that we shouldn’t do for our veterans.”
In recent years, the city has continued its pro-military efforts, backing a Vietnam War Museum at the site of a defunct auto dealership on Harbor Boulevard. The project got a kickstart last year when the city played host to the Moving Wall, a 250-foot replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Now an architectural firm is at work designing the museum space. But its price tag—as much as $9 million—and its scope mean it has a long way to go.
“Museums are expensive,” said Council member Bruce Broadwater, who sits on the board of the Vietnam War Museum Foundation and is an Army veteran.
Still, one day he expects it will open, drawing crowds of those who have served. And those who want to know more about the meaning of service.