Veteran John Abbott gets long-overdue honors

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Veteran John Abbott gets long-overdue honorsPictured: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy shakes John Abbott’s hand, and thanks him on behalf of President Donald Trump. — Photo by Laura Austin


An American hero and community pillar received long-deserved distinction last week when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy presented John Abbott with his many commendations — and a personal thank-you from President Donald Trump — earned during his decades of service in two branches of the U.S. military.

“Usually I don’t answer my phone unless it’s my wife or the president,” joked the congressman, who was on hand last Friday for a ceremony in honor of Abbott, as well as a tour of newly built and renovated school campuses in the Sierra Sands Unified School District (see related story, this edition).

When the president called during his visit, Trump reportedly asked where McCarthy was. McCarthy told him about his trip to Ridgecrest to help honor John Abbott. “President Trump said, ‘Do me a favor — shake his hand and tell him thank you from me.’”

Abbott is well known as the manager of the Historic USO Building and is admired for his painstaking devotion to keeping the venue open — and in good repair — to the many groups who use it as a community gathering place.

In addition to the many luncheons, concerts, reunions and support groups regularly renting out the building, Chuck Griffin invites veterans to breakfast there on a monthly basis.

One day, Tex Hoppus (president of the Historical Society of the Upper Mojave Desert) and Gary Zuber (champion of veterans in East Kern) were chatting with Abbott about his military commendations. Though Abbot served two tours as a soldier in Vietnam and followed up with a 23-year career in the Navy, he never received the slew of medals he earned.

“I thought, ‘Maybe my son or my granddaughters will be interested in that when I pass,’” said Abbott. “So I figured, instead of leaving it to them to track down, I would make my request to the National Archives.”

It turns out he had earned a Navy Commendation Medal, Navy Achievement Medal, Meritorious Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendation, Navy “E” Ribbon, Navy Good Conduct Medal with two Bronze Stars, Navy Expeditionary Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Southwest Asia Service Medal with one Bronze Star and Sea Service Deployment Ribbon with four Bronze Stars.

Behind the scenes, Zuber and Hoppus put the wheels in motion to request that McCarthy present them in person. “The veterans are very important to John, and he really wanted to be able to incorporate his ceremony into our monthly veterans breakfast,” said Hoppus. When McCarthy’s office couldn’t make those dates work, Zuber got on the phone and invited the veterans to watch Abbott receive his service medals.

Hoppus invited Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason and Ridgecrest Mayor Peggy Breeden.

They all flocked to the Historic USO to bear witness. “There is not a more generous or honorable person than John,” said Hoppus.

“He is at every veterans breakfast, he helps guide the combat stress support group, he’s on our board of directors, he gives a lot of his time and energy to the building and he is also commander of the Police and Citizens Together unit. It was a pleasurable honor to be able to do this for him.”

“I thought it was an outstanding ceremony,” said Abbott. “And of course it was a terrific honor to have our congressman there.”

“John is really good at hiding his emotions, but I could tell it meant a lot to him,” said Hoppus. “And it meant a lot to his wife, Norma, because she knows how much he has given.”

“I think I told someone that receiving that kind of recognition for my service seemed kind of like the icing on the cake,” said Abbott. “Not that I’m done serving.”

Since the Historical Society took up renovation and operation of the Historic USO Building, many have come to regard the locale as the heart of our community. If the doors are open, John is almost certainly performing some service in the background or offering a smile and a handshake to those who enter. We appreciate John’s service to our country, but we are even more grateful that he has continued to find outlets to serve. It is people like him who make our community great. — Ed.

Story First Published: 2018-03-09