Heroes Exposed: Douglas County Veterans Services Office Shares Stories of Local Veterans – Superior Telegram


SUPERIOR – The Douglas County Veterans Services Office this week launched a new quarterly exhibit honoring local veterans.

Assistant Veterans Services Officer Shonn Devroy, right, points to one of the medals in a display for UT2 Aaron Esala at the Superior Government Center on Wednesday, March 23, 2022, as Veterans Services Officer Erick Hudson, left, and Superior’s Ann Esala look on.

Maria Lockwood / Upper Telegram

Unlike the Bong Center’s Flags of Honor program, it will feature living veterans as well as those who have passed away. Vietnam veterans, in particular, are a focus.

“I want people to know who their neighbors are, to know what they’ve been through. I’ve heard so many amazing stories from everyone here,” said Douglas County Veterans Services Officer Erick Hudson. “They’ve done amazing things, and no one’s ever heard of them before.”

He particularly wants to share the stories of older veterans, giving them recognition while they are still alive. Vietnam veterans, who have returned to a country that has not honored their service, top the list.

“We have an overwhelming number of Vietnam veterans who come and we talk to them and they say, ‘You know, I’ve never, ever spoken to anyone about my experiences before, because I came back from Vietnam and I come on you I know it was so divisive at the time that I just shut my mouth and never said anything,” Hudson said.

A veteran said he came home from service in Vietnam, burned his uniform and told everyone he was in college for those four years.

“I started thinking, you know, we need to do something to help these people who, you know, deserve someone to say ‘Good job,'” Hudson said. “They deserve someone to tell them the country was proud of what they did, and they never got it.”

The first exhibit will pay homage to someone from Hudson’s past. Before coming to Douglas County, he worked with Ann Esala at the Lakes Community Health Center in Ashland and Iron River. When Esala released information about the death of her son Aaron, a Navy veteran who served from 2013 to 2018, it made a big impression on Hudson.

“So when we started this, it was just the first name that came to mind because it was recent,” Hudson said.

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Medals, photos and a boot worn by UT2 Aaron Esala, who served in the Navy from 2013-2018, rest in a display at the Government Center in Superior on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

Maria Lockwod / Upper Telegram

Esala provided his son’s shadow box, medals, a boot he was wearing, a drawing by Aaron’s friend and tattoo artist Joe Webera, and a series of photos.

“He had a big smile on his face,” said Shonn Devroy, assistant veterans services officer, as they viewed the display in the Government Center atrium on Wednesday, March 23.

An intern from the office, Deann Scannell, set up the display with Devroy’s help. It includes a large poster-sized biography of the serviceman. As a member of the Navy Construction Battalion, or Seabees, Aaron Esala spent his military career building things including a medical clinic in Timor Leste. He fed the feral cats while stationed in Crete and shared extra food with children who came to see him work in Timor Leste.

In 2018, he and other Seabees rode across the country on motorcycles back to Ashland, where he married his longtime sweetheart. Four days later, on the return trip, he was killed by a drunk driver. He was 26 years old.

Ann Esala, who lives in Superior, said her son would be pleased with the exhibit. There was an outpouring of community support for his death, she said, remembering the motorcade that accompanied them from the Twin Cities to Ashland. A motorcycle ride in his honor, Aaron’s Ride, takes place in Marengo each Labor Day weekend.

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From left, Douglas County Veterans Service Assistant Shonn Devroy, Erick Hudson and Superior Veterans Service Officer Ann Esala place the biography of UT2 Aaron Esala above a display case in the Superior Government Center on Wednesday, March 23, 2022.

Maria Lockwood / Upper Telegram

What does she hope people will take away from the display?

“Life is short and precious, and live each day to the fullest and also be thankful that we have military members protecting our country,” Esala said. “Especially with what is happening in kyiv, (Ukraine).”

Featured veterans and their families will be permitted to submit artifacts and history to the public. They will be able to take the billboard biography home when the display changes, Hudson said, and a smaller version will be displayed in the Government Center atrium.

The office is still formalizing a policy and process for nominating veterans for posting, which will change every three months. A name for the display has yet to be decided, though Devroy has been pushing for “Operation Valor.” Name suggestions are taken from the Douglas County Veterans Services Office Facebook page.

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Aaron Esala

Contribution / Douglas County Veterans Services Office

Aaron Esala UT2 (Utilitiesman Petty Officer Second Class) was born in Cloquet, Minnesota in 1991. He graduated from Ashland High School in Wisconsin in 2010. He excelled in powerlifting, track and field, and football.

Aaron enlisted in the US Navy in 2013 and was a member of the Seabees, a name taken from the heterography of his initials, “CB”, for Construction Battalion. During his five years in the Navy, he was stationed in Greece, Timor Leste, Diego Garcia and most recently Port Hueneme, California. Aaron’s fellow Seabees affectionately gave him the name “Truck” due to his size and strength.

Seabees are responsible for building temporary and permanent infrastructure at US military sites around the world.

While stationed in Souda Bay on the Greek island of Crete, Aaron worked for the public works department. As a cat lover, he enjoyed the many feral cats that roamed the island, often inviting them to his barracks to feed them.

In Diego Garcia, one of his assignments was to build kennels for military dogs and install air conditioning.

Timor Leste has been a difficult deployment. The Southeast Asian island is very hot and humid. Its inhabitants are very poor. The Seabees’ mission was to build a medical clinic. Children gathered to watch, sometimes stealing their lunches. Aaron befriended the children and was particularly fond of a boy they called “Lefty”. He started packing extra food to share with him and often brought candies and treats for the kids.

In 2018, while stationed in California, Aaron and some of his fellow Seabees rode across the country on motorcycles back to Ashland for Aaron’s wedding. Aaron married his longtime sweetheart Amber Ovaska on September 1, 2018. Just four days later, while driving back to Oxnard, California, a drunk driver took his own life and shattered so many dreams. He was 26 years old.

Aaron was buried with full honors in Mount Hope Cemetery in Ashland. His devotion to his family, friends and country will never be forgotten.

Biography provided by Douglas County Veterans Services Office.


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