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Semper Fi: Simply One Marine Helping Another
American Veterans First CEO Duke Cooper, second from right, presented the Marine dress blues to the Cardenas family last week. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS
American Veterans First has settled in to their new location at 6436 Oakdale Road in Riverbank and is open when the flags are flying. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

While United States Marine Corps veteran Miguel Cardenas is fighting for his life, his daughter Melissa took on a fight of her own for him and won. She was able to acquire a set of Marine ‘dress blues’ for her father with the help of officials with the local American Veterans First organization. The dress blues were presented to the Cardenas family this past week in a heartfelt ceremony.

As her father was getting worse in the ICU with COVID-19 and the situation was looking bleak, Melissa made it a mission to find a set of Marine dress blues. Miguel’s wish when he passes is to be buried in the dress blues and several years ago the ones he was issued were stolen. He served in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War and ended his service as a sergeant. He has been married to his wife Teresa for over 30 years.

“We were hoping he would pull through but we didn’t think we had time,” stated Melissa. “We couldn’t wait; we had to get this now. So I called a few different places and they did not know where to send me to. So then somebody got me in touch with Duke (Cooper) and he said ‘we will get it done. All your Dad’s medals; we will get those and so if he ends up passing he will have the dress blues and his medals’.”

Melissa made some calls trying to locate dress blues for her father to no avail. She then took to social media to see if there was anyone that could help her as time was of the essence and that search is the one that led her to AVF CEO Duke Cooper.

According to, the Marine dress blues are the only uniform in the U.S. military designated to include red, white, and blue colors of the American flag. The dress blue uniform Marines wear represents the values Marines live and has origins that date back to the American Revolution.

Cooper, along with the AVF Board of Directors, took this mission on and not only acquired a set of dress blues but also all Miguel’s medals including a purple heart, Vietnam service medal, rifle marksman badge, good conduct medal, and cold war medal. As a USMC veteran himself, Cooper provided his very own dress blues to be given to Miguel.

“We were honored to help him and it was one marine helping another marine in need,” said Cooper. “Let’s not concentrate where the uniform came from but where it is going. It was all about him and nobody else.”

There was a patriotic presentation of this act of kindness where AVF presented the family with the dress blues at their Riverbank location. There were several guests, veterans and combat veterans that were in attendance along with the Cardenas family. The event began with the National Anthem and Cooper recognized all the veterans in the crowd including Navy Combat World War II veteran Allen Taylor.

“She said ‘Mom I am going to do this for my dad’,” expressed Teresa of her daughter’s relentless search. “She never gave up. I love it. It is wonderful. It hit us right here. I wish he could have been here.”

Heath Flora’s representative Josh Whitfield said a few words and presented Teresa with a Vietnam service medal as a rededication for his service, noting that it was an honor to do so and thoughts and prayers are with their loved one.

Katie Jaycox, the representative from Josh Harder’s office also gave a few words and presented Teresa with a Vietnam commemoration pin and thanked them for their service.

“It is really great that a group such as AVF was able to get together and do this for a veteran in need and their family,” remarked Jaycox. “I hope he gets better.”

Stanislaus County District One Supervisor Buck Condit and cousin Chance Condit shared that it was also an honor for them to be there with the family of Sgt. Cardenas and to recognize his years of service and thanked them.

“We are honored today to present these dress blues to our veteran Miguel so Teresa please accept this from a grateful nation, the board of directors at AVF and veterans everywhere,” stated Cooper at the end of the March 24 ceremony. “Today he (Miguel) called her (Melissa) from the hospital and he is doing much better and they gave him a high percentage of returning to good health. We are in prayer for Miguel and family.”

The event ended with the Marine Corps hymn in celebration of Miguel and an introduction of the new Board of Directors for AVF: President John Hinkel, Treasurer Lynell Soloman, Secretary Paige McLaughlin, Director Steve Brown, Vietnam Veterans of America and Director Steve Rogers, and new Mental Health Therapist Steve Lawson.

“We are a small group and I tell you what, they get a lot of things done,” added Cooper. “I am very honored and proud to serve with them. I think the big thing is that we have no paid positions and we are all volunteers. I am amazed because right now we have the best board of directors that we have had in four years.”

Donation Liaison/Fundraiser for Protecting Soldiers Rights Martha Griffith said, “We do it because it is what we are passionate about. There really is no glory in this. This is just who we are and what we do.”

AVF noted that Miguel is doing much better and according to Soloman in a recent conversation with Melissa she said that her Dad was so grateful to everyone involved for making this happen and was overcome with emotion. Melissa said that one of the places he plans to visit when he is out of the hospital is everyone at AVF.

Melissa, daughter of Marine veteran Miguel Cardenas, expressed her appreciation to AVF CEO Duke Cooper for making her father’s wish come true. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS
The Cardenas family took some time to look at some of the memorabilia on display at American Veterans First in Riverbank. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS