MURRIETA – The Murrieta Rotary has selected four heroes for special recognition during the 2017 Field of Honor in Murrieta’s Town Square Park, Nov. 4-11.
These heroes were nominated by friends and acquaintances for their “Service Above Self,” which is a motto of the Rotary Club. The nominees will be honored at the veteran’s lunch Monday, Nov. 6, and again at the Patriots’ Ball Saturday, Nov. 11. Both events are being held at the Field of Honor.
The four heroes being honored this year are nonprofit group All From the Heart, Juan Dominguez, Don “Donnie” Simpson and Howard J. Tait.
Since their founding in 2003, the mission of All From The Heart has been to honor local military families. Each year, it has hosted the Support Our Troops holiday season event. Approximately 100 family members who are living with special circumstances are invited each year to celebrate the season with gifts, music, a barbecue and a visit from a Harley Davidson motorcycle-riding Santa. Wheels for Warriors is another of the group’s projects, which gifts power wheelchairs and scooters to assist any veteran who needs the freedom to live life more fully. Over 400 power chairs have been presented so far, and another eight chairs will be presented in November. Judy Harter, the founder and president of All From The Heart, is the mother of four children and the longtime partner of a Vietnam veteran. The group’s newest project is called VET, which stands for Veteran Equine Therapy, to assist veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and who have not responded well to talk therapy.
Juan Dominguez is Marine corporal who became famous in southwest Riverside County five years ago when he was handed the keys to a smart home, thanks to actor Gary Sinese and the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation. But Dominguez, who lost both legs and his right arm in Afghanistan, didn’t just settle down in the beautifully modified home with his wife, Alexis. Since moving in, he has been busy giving back to help others like himself. Dominguez is now an ambassador for the Gary Sinese Foundation, the vice president of WarFighter Made – a 2015 Hero nominee – and an increasingly in-demand musician, who taught himself with the help of YouTube to play the drums and the piano after giving up on the guitar. He has performed at Madison Square Garden, Constitution Hall, Walter Reed Hospital and most recently in Nantucket as part of the Holidays for Heroes.
A lifetime Hemet resident, Don “Donnie” Simpson was awarded the Silver Star, the third highest U.S. military honor, for valor this year and 50 years after the brave act in the Vietnam War for which the medal was awarded. As an Army rifleman and radiotelephone operator, Simpson was part of an 18-man reconnaissance team helicopter, dropped into the coastal area known as Bong Son where they came under heavy enemy fire. With bullets whizzing over his head and nipping at his uniform, and in a prone position, he was able to radio for help and successfully directed an airstrike on the enemy. Although four men were killed and eight were wounded, the survivors were able to move to safety after the airstrikes. Drafted into the Army at age 19 in 1966, Simpson served in many combat missions in Vietnam before being honorably discharged in 1968. He has continued to serve veterans in the Hemet community as a member of American Legion Post 53, where he was a member of the Honor Guard and has participated in more than 500 military services at Riverside National Cemetery.
Retired after 23 years of brave service as a Marine infantryman, Master Sgt. Howard J. Tait experienced 11 deployments, four in combat and two unexpected diversions to Sri Lanka and Japan for humanitarian assistance during tsunamis. In 2011, while traveling home, his group of Marines was diverted, and they were among the first responders to help the devastated citizens on Osuna Island after the earthquake and tsunami. He took 65 servicemen onto the island for 10 days of humanitarian assistance. As they were leaving on a Navy flat-bottomed boat, island residents gathered on the shore stretching a ribbon to the Marines in a symbol of bonds never broken. A year later, he deployed for an 11-month tour in Afghanistan where his group encountered numerous small arms and improvised explosive device attacks. While finishing up his service in the Wounded Warriors program for severe post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury, Tait has competed in the Department of Defense Warrior Games, representing the Marine Corps. Tait and his wife Rachel live in Winchester with their two children, Savannah, 19, and Hunter, 13.
“It has been an honor and privilege serving with my Marines, and now I look to give back to those who gave to me,” Tait said.
The Heroes program in conjunction with the Field of Honor was started in 2015. the following is a list of the heroes honored from each year since it began.
In 2016, Lt. Col. Saul “Berny” Ashen, a World War II bomber pilot who flew 50 missions over Europe; David F. Barragan, retired US Marines sergeant major, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq; Col. Linda A Cleary, who served 28 years as a flight nurse; Richard Harthun, a World War II B-24 gunner with 33 missions and Ed Hustead, a World War II and Korean War Army veteran were honored as heroes.
In 2015, the group honored Ginger Greaves, the executive director of the Santa Rosa Plateau Nature Education Foundation; Army Staff Sgt. Wallace Fanene, a wounded warrior from Iraq; John Hunneman, a U.S. Navy veteran and longtime journalist and columnist and War Fighter Made, which serves ill, injured and combat-wounded service members and veterans.
The Rotary Club of Murrieta was chartered April 28, 1992, and serves the city of Murrieta and surrounding areas. The club is involved in many local and several international projects in cooperation with Rotary International, which has as its theme “Service Above Self.” For information regarding Rotary membership and more, visit www.murrietarotary.org.
Rotary is a nonprofit organization of professionals and leaders in the local community who volunteer to improve the community and world. The Murrieta club meets every Monday, except on national holidays, at Richie’s Diner, 40651 Murrieta Hot Springs Road, in Murrieta.