Cigars for Heroes

In Features, Top Stories
Photo By Jonathan Gibby/Graphics Editor

The thick woody aroma of cigar smoke flows through the air on this breezy Sunday afternoon. Families and friends of United States Marines walk towards and gather near Vintage Cigars in Santa Ana in front of a row of waving American flags and portraits of loved ones.

The name of the event, “Cigars for Heroes,” can fool anyone. When I hear “cigars” I think of old men smoking in a lounge room with a glass of scotch in one hand and a fat, juicy cigar in the other.

This event is to remember fallen loved ones, celebrate troops and send them care packages to cheer them up.

These troops have been overseas on shifts that can last for over a year. Many of them look forward to receiving care packages of general toiletries and snacks, but those things are expected. Cigars? Now cigars are a treat.

“From the guys we talked to, when you get a box of cigars, you’re like a king for a week,” said Shawn Nelson, Orange County Supervisor.

Nelson blows out a puff of heavy smoke. “We can send them cigars. They get to enjoy one of the luxuries of life.”

Owner of Vintage Cigars, Ribhi Saoud, was approached by event coordinator Steve Spernak and felt more than happy to hold the event at his cigar shop.

Families and friends held cigars, blew out smoke with a sense of relief and shared memories of their loved ones while enjoying food and company.

“We’re sending them (troops) an Orange County flag so they can take a picture while they’re smoking their cigars,” said Steve Spernak, who coordinated the event.

The picture will then be sent back to family and friends in the states and will also be in Cigar Aficionado magazine.

While many troop members love cigars, there are a few who weren’t too keen on the aromatic smokey treat.

“Claudio wasn’t into cigars. He was about exercising and Mixed Martial Arts,” said Marlon Chinchilla, of Yorba Linda, who was remembering his little brother, Claudio Patino IV, United States Marine Cpl.

But even though Cpl. Patino wasn’t a cigar fan, he always enjoyed other treats in his care package.

“He was very unselfish and would always share his care packages with his friends,” Chinchilla said. “He was known for sharing his Tapatio sauce.”

Albert Arizmendez, who had two chocolaty brown cigars nestled in his coat pocket, tilted his head and looked at the portrait of his son, United States Army Staff Sgt. Marc Andrew Arizmendez.

“He liked being a soldier. He was very compassionate,” said Arizmendez.

Arizmendez told me about his son, and how he was a mechanic and loved to fix tanks. Sgt. Arizmendez was due to come home this August but was stalled when he went on a mission. When he came back, he and his troops encountered an explosion from a bomb that had been placed were they were staying.

The explosion blew his face off.

“They decided not to show his face, he looked like a mummy,” Arizmendez said about his son’s funeral service. “It softened him like he was rested. Like an angel. It softened the blow by looking at the white.”

I couldn’t think of how Sgt. Arizmendez’s father felt. I had never experienced a loss so great.
“He’s in heaven now, no more troubles,” Arizmendez said.

Arizmendez’s mentality flowed threw the event. Everyone was jovial, relaxed and had a sense of peace. Their loved ones aren’t gone, they live on in their stories and memories.

The care packages will help the troops overseas feel less homesick and hopefully surprise them with their favorite indulgences.

“This is something special. You get a cigar, it’s handmade, they know it’s something special to them,” Nelson said. “It takes 45 minutes to an hour to smoke and it’s something to help them relax.”

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  • gene

    Nice promo for addicting our troops to tobacco. What is this, an ad? You couldn’t mention the known health effects of cigars at all? Oral cancer, COPD, heart disease not important enough? This is irresponsible journalism–and in a college outlet(!) Despicable.

    Consider the role cigars played in Conservative icon William F. Buckley’s emphysema and untimely death–a role Buckley bitterly bemoaned in his column:

    “Half a year ago my wife died, technically from an infection, but manifestly, at least in part, from a body weakened by 60 years of nonstop smoking. I stayed off the cigarettes but went to the idiocy of cigars inhaled, and suffer now from emphysema, which seems determined to outpace heart disease as a human killer.

    “Stick me in a confessional and ask the question: Sir, if you had the authority, would you forbid smoking in America? You’d get a solemn and contrite, Yes.”

    –Buckley, William F. Jr., “My Smoking Confession” NY Sun, Dec. 3, 2007.

  • Claudio

    Nice! One example and everybody has to stop and listen to a hysterical idiot who has to have his way. If you read the article, you would have noticed that cigars are for tasting not inhaling. Buckley was a cigarette smoker who smoked cigars as though they were cigars. Too bad he had to make a mistake, but don’t push your agenda with phony information. These soldiers are making a greater decision, to put their life in danger to protect our freedom. They don’t need you to make them feel bad!

  • Roberto

    Thank you Gene for sharing your ignorance about cigars. I guess that you comprhension skills were not the greatest while you were going to school.

    I was in attendance at the event and know for a fact that included in the care packages being sent out to the Marines, were not only 500 cigars that were donated by guests and visitors, but also DVDs, CDs, toiletries and powdered propel packets to add into their water.

    You can also thank these brave young men for right to spread your ignorance through free speech.

  • Ashlee

    Thank you Gene for ruining the heart warming sentiment in this article by your comment that completely over looked the actual meaning of the inclusion of cigars in military care packages. As the daughter of two former Marines, I know the joy troops overseas experience when receiving gifts from home, from their loved ones. And cigars would be a real luxury for those who enjoy them.

    Ms. Wiebach did an excellent job covering this event and hopefully it will propel more people to take into consideration the tremendous sacrafice our troops make to protect our country.

  • John

    Nice article Ms. Wiebach. The first post (gene) should not and will not set the pace for your article. I too was at the event, one of the 40 or so Corevtte owners who showed up with their Vettes (25+)
    to support this event. As a cigar smoker, the TIME taken to savor a good smoke…and reflect on things, is a great moment that our troops deserve and have earned. And given that only those who CHOOSE to light up will do so…I am honored to share that moment with them.

  • gene

    What a display of self-serving ignorance on this board.

    A few facts:

    Wm. F. Buckley is not just “one example,” there’s an entire body of scientific literature on the health effects of cigars. Cigar smokers like to tell each other that no one inhales. That’s a myth. Many–especially ex-cigarette smokers like Buckley–do inhale. And suffer the consequences.

    Cigar smoking keeps people addicted to nicotine, in whatever form. Michael Douglas had successfully quit smoking decades ago. Until “that cigar fad came along,” he has said–and the powerful nicotine addiction took hold again. Now he’s battling throat cancer.

    Companies providing an addicting drug to our troops is what hooked entire generations to cigarettes in WWI and WWII. Before WWI, lung cancer was _extremely_ rare. After, tobacco-related diseases cut down our friends, our fellow citizens, and our family members on a massive scale, eventually killing far more than the enemy.

    For tobacco use _is_ the enemy. Providers in the World Wars could at least claim ignorance. Not today. Today, there’s no question about the health effects of cigars.

    And cigar makers aren’t dumb. They well know how perfectly such free samples worked in the World Wars, and how well free samples work today in our crack-filled streets. They’d LOVE it if an entire generation came home from Iraq and Afghanistan similarly addicted to their “free” cigars. Damn the health effects–more business for them!

    This “heart-warming” event is nothing more than an ugly commercial ploy to make cigar smoking popular, using our fighting troops. It cynically drapes itself in a proud American flag and hijacks these harrowing stories of our fighting and suffering men and women in order to sell their drug. Disgraceful.

    Nice way to help addict and enfeeble our troops, Ms. Wiebach. Go to journalism school and learn about responsible reporting. I’d probably have let this ugly event alone had you paid the slightest lip service to the known health effects of cigars. But you can’t in all conscience post this untrammeled ad for an addicting, deadly drug without informing your readers about reality.

  • Martin

    Gene,
    It’s good to know there are health Nazis out there who are hell bent on olfactory tyranny.
    If you were at the event and talked to the family of the three Marines who gave up their lives so you can anonymously harass reporters on the Internet, you;d know that the men and women serving this country in a God forsaken place have little to no comforts.
    Cigars are not vices for these young men and women. They don’t smoke it everyday, and with their salaries, they won’t smoke it everyday at home.
    Anything involving smoke is unhealthy, granted. But cigars are not as addictive as cigarettes. And the health risks of tobacco consumption has been reported over and over again. It doesn’t bear repeating that it’s not really all that good for you.
    But then again, going to Afghanistan so that you can have the freedom to impose your beliefs on others isn’t healthy, and in fact even deadlier.
    Please choose a better forum for addressing your concerns on the health effects of tobacco. These three marines being honored in this article deserve better.

  • gene

    Congratulations, Martin, you’re this board’s winner of the Godwin Prize!

    I’m not responding to these trolls anymore. To compare the destruction of millions solely because of their built-in human attributes with some cavils about presenting a narcotic as if it were harmless–it’s just despicable.

    And it’s not a “belief,” it’s plain science, which is ignored by cigar sellers and lazy reporters who may or may not have a personal connection here.

    And those 3 marines deserve far, far better than to have their terrible sacrifices hijacked so a commercial interest can celebrate and promote an addicting, deadly drug.

    I’ve had my say. The point’s been made. It’s too disheartening to continue here.

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