Veterans Day has arrived and if you’re looking for a way to further learn, celebrate and support local veterans, Heroes Hall Museum in Costa Mesa may just be the place to start. What was once a 1942 Santa Ana Army Air Base barracks building was renovated and opened to the public as Heroes Hall back in 2017. The free museum is open year-round and is dedicated to highlighting the heroism and personal experiences of all veterans.

The exhibition space at Heroes Hall rotates themes twice a year. Following the dark days brought on by COVID-19 for the past two years, supervisor of Heroes Hall Carol Singleton said the museum felt now is a great time to showcase the artistic endeavors of veterans. 

“We have had exhibits about prisoners of war, post-traumatic stress, World War II and more. This time we wanted to do something a little lighter,” Singleton said.

On view through Jan. 20, 2022, the “Through Their Eyes” exhibit is a juried art show that features works by 23 military veterans, all with roots in Southern California. The various artworks demonstrate numerous mediums such as photography, painting, woodworking and more.

Some of the works may reference life in the military, while other art pieces feature flowers, landscapes and portraits. Artists like Casey Rydjeski submitted photographs that capture military life, featuring his partner, K9 Fantom. Other veterans however decided to portray their own unique and worldly perspectives, staying away from the military sphere. Artists include Ed Bowen, Giovanni Berdejo, Linda Hicks, Cody Reed and more. David Vargo, for example, shows his love of the mysterious through his elaborate oil paintings, such as “The Unlikely Path.”

“From an early age, my art sought to transcend realism to the realm of the imagination,” said Vargo about the meanings behind his art.

“The Unlikely Path” by David Vargo. Oil on wood panel. The painting showcases a creative subject that extends beyond military life. Credit: CRYSTAL HENRIQUEZ, Voice of OC

Seeing as veterans typically get stereotyped as disturbed, tough or out-of-the-loop, the “Through Their Eyes” exhibit shows that these are all passionate individuals with profound creative depths and imaginations.

Paul Todd, an army veteran from Orange who served overseas in the later years of the Vietnam War, has always loved photography and is also a featured artist in the exhibit.

“In high school, my friend Jere and I took photos every Saturday at the old Lion’s Drag Strip in Long Beach. I’ve gone from film on my Yashica and Hasselblad to digital photos of shape, color and light,” Todd said about his beginnings in photography.

Todd is grateful to have experienced the Army lifestyle and sees his time in service as one of the seminal events of his life. Now, he is a retired public school teacher and high school administrator. He is glad to have his photographs featured in this museum that calls attention to the release that art can provide for veterans from the difficult experiences that they often face.

Aside from the “Through Their Eyes” exhibit, Heroes Hall features an outside Medal of Honor courtyard and Walk of Honor. There are 28 plaques arranged on pillars that surround the courtyard, highlighting the stories and experiences of Orange County veterans who have received the highest honors that the United States government bestows for their heroism. 

‘Celebrating Veterans at Heroes Hall Museum’ 

Exhibit on View

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday, through Jan. 20. Excludes holidays and all-grounds events on the OC Fairgrounds. 

Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Dr. Costa Mesa

Reservations are not required. Masks are required for unvaccinated guests.

The SAAAB Story’

Heroes Hall is reopening of the Santa Ana Army Air Base Exhibit. Activities include: All-American Boys Chorus performance, Marine Corps birthday cake cutting, kids activities.

When: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 11

Where: OC Fair & Event Center, 88 Fair Dr. Costa Mesa

Eleven Orange County veterans have received the Medal of Honor to date. The Walk of Honor features 17 plaques highlighting veterans who have received the Distinguished Service Cross, the Air Force Cross and the Navy Cross.

Singleton says the ultimate goal of the exhibit at Heroes Hall is to provide a space for veterans to share their artistic creations with the public, while still recognizing them for their service. 

Heroes Hall will also be hosting a reopening ceremony on Veterans Day for the upstairs Santa Ana Army Air Base exhibit which had been previously closed for renovation. The free event will be taking place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and is another chance to meet with and celebrate local veterans, many of whose art also happens to be on display in the “Through Their Eyes” exhibit.

There are a number of other ways to support veterans as well, including talking to veterans and asking about their experiences. Shake their hands, thank them for their service or even write letters to veterans at Veterans Affairs hospitals.

Artist Todd says the best way to support your local veterans is to simply acknowledge them and talk to them about their time in service. 

“We are not heroes but just folks who, when asked, did their job for their country,” Todd said.

For more information on Heroes Hall and the “Through Their Eyes” exhibit, visit https://ocfair.com/heroes-hall/exhibitions/through-their-eyes-artwork-by-active-military-and-veterans/

Other Ways to Support Veterans:

  • Working Wardrobes VetNet Program provides veterans from every branch of the military with the tools and skills they need to find meaningful employment after service.
  • Goodwill’s Tierney Center for Veterans provide fellow veterans to help you navigate through quality veteran resources and services in Orange County at no cost. 
  • Quilts of Valor provides service members and veterans touched by war with comforting and healing handmade quilts.

Crystal Henriquez is a writing fellow for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at crystalh774@gmail.com.


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