Different Generation, Same Courage

Wayne Cegelske, left, and Dionicio Alevaro. Photo illustration

The United States has fought in several conflicts during the
last century. Although the face of the American vet is changing,
their core values remain the same
When Gilroy resident Wayne Cegelske was 18 years old, he enlisted with the U.S. Army because he felt it was his civil duty.

“It’s just what you did back then,” he said. “It was your patriotic duty.”

After Hollister resident Dionicio Arevalo’s enlistment was up, he decided to stay in the Army National Guard to keep some of his benefits and work toward his retirement.

Both men, now back to civilian life with their families, raised their right hands and pledged their allegiance to defend this country. They suited up in combat boots and Kevlar, and they headed out to war: one to Vietnam in the ’60s and the other to Iraq in 2003. Although their stories and experiences are different, their core values are the same.

They’re soldiers. They believe in their nation, and they wore their courage on their sleeves. They’re the reason residents of the South Valley will fly American flags today, and their stories are a glimpse into how much bravery and sacrifice goes into being a U.S. veteran.

Wayne Cegelske

In 1964, Cegelske had already been in the U.S. Army for 10 years. He was married, and at 28 years old, he was in prime condition. This was when he received his first orders to head to Vietnam.

“We were dressed in civilian clothes,” he said. “We (the U.S. Military) weren’t supposed to be there at that time.”

Cegelske was part of an Army group that went to southern Vietnam and trained the Vietnamese army on how to use U.S. weapons. Cegelske, a former Sergeant First Class, said the men lived well during that time, with a French villa as their barracks and shoe shiners at their service. When he returned for a second duty in 1970, it was a different story.

“Men were lucky if they could write home every six months,” he said. “They were even lucky if they had writing supplies to take notes on.”

After spending another year in the war-torn country of Vietnam, Cegelske later returned to his hometown of St. Paul, Minn., for his mother’s funeral. As he sat in the bar next to his father’s business while waiting for his dad to finish work, a man sitting next to him noticed he was in uniform.

“The man asked me if I was in Vietnam and I said yes,” Cegelske said.

After Cegelske’s response, the man turned and spit on him.

“That was really frustrating, because I had heard of things like that happening to other people, but not me,” Celegske said.

After 20 years in the Army, he retired and took a job with AAA. Now the Chaplain of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6309 in Gilroy, Cegelske interacts with other veterans regularly. He wishes every American could spend one year in a third-world country, like most service men and women do.

“They would come back and appreciate what they have here,” he said. “People take for granted everything we have here in the U.S.”

Americans honor police officers and firefighters on a daily basis, Cegelske said, because they put their lives on the line to help others. Today is the day everyone should honor veterans because of their everyday sacrifices, he said.

“Servicemen risk their lives every single day in order to defend this country,” he said. “Whether they’re at war or just training, they’re constantly putting their life on the line.”

Dionicio Arevalo

In March of 2003, Dionicio Arevalo and his wife, Rosse, were estatic about life. They had just learned that Rosse was a month pregnant.

A few days later, Arevalo found out his National Guard unit, part of the 870th Division, was being mobilized to Iraq. He would be gone for a year, and he’d miss the birth of his first son, Dionicio Arevalo III.

“It was bad, because being in the military, I would always hear guys talking about their kids, and I really wanted to be with her (Rosse) and experience the pregnancy,” he said.

Instead, Arevalo was sent to the Abu Grab prison, where he patrolled the area as a gunner for the military police. Although he never saw any of the prisoner abuse that was later exposed in the news media, Arevalo said the sound of mortar attacks and bullets whizzing by his head while out on patrol still haunt him today.

“It’s difficult coming home because you have to readjust to everything,” he said. “When you’re at war, your adrenaline is constantly running and you’re always looking out to protect yourself. The smallest little noise here, like a car backfiring or fireworks at the Fourth of July, will set me off.”

After 13 months in Iraq, Arevalo returned to Hollister and his son he didn’t meet until April of 2004.

Unlike the soldiers of wars past, Arevalo and his wife were able to communicate regularly during his time overseas.

“We could e-mail almost every day, and I was able to send him the ultrasound pictures over the Internet,” Rosse Arevalo said.

Dionicio Arevalo now works with Pride Conveyance Systems Inc. in Hollister, and he said being with his family is the only place he wants to be. In the next few months, he and Rosse will welcome another baby boy. However, a second deployment to Iraq is still a possibility.

“There is that chance that I will go back, but right now I’m focusing on my family,” Arevalo said.

Many people people want to do something for their country or make a difference in the some way, Arevalo said, and he believes the best way to do that is to run for office or sign up with the military.

“Everyone should serve their country in some form,” he said.

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