Marleen and her grandchildren Elise Olivia, Mark Rey, and Alyssa Marleen

Valley resident Marleen Martinez Aparicio recently celebrated her 60th birthday at the American Legion Hall in the City of San Fernando

Her two sons Genaro “Naro” and Mark Alcala were going to send her to Hawaii to mark this milestone, but instead she choose to share her big day with friends and family.

No surprise to her sons.  It made sense that she would share the day with others.

“She is unselfish.  She said that we see each other when something bad has happened, why don’t we all get together and celebrate on a happy occasion?” her son Genaro said.

It was the first birthday party ever thrown for her.

“She has given a lot of parties for other people,” said her son Mark, “but she never had a birthday party for herself.”

With her sister  she made her own dress, a Cinderella-styled black ball gown.

As the Parker Road band played, she danced with her sons who, as Aparicio has taught them, were open in showing their emotion and love for their mother.  

Throughout the evening, scores of people came. It seemed that they all had similar stories about the good advice or a kindness that she had done for them along the way. One bit of advice that Aparicio is known to give is to tell people to take each problem one at a  time  and to “ride each wave.”

With so many people who appreciate Aparicio the party had to be held at a public venue and, no question, the American Legion Hall in the City of San Fernando had to be the spot. It’s been a place where she has given back to her favorite cause — Veterans. 

Aparicio has been a longtime volunteer at the San Fernando chapter of the American Legion and the Wounded Warriors Program.  It’s a cause she holds dear not only because her father served in the Korean War, and Mark is a former Marine that served in Iraq. But she has seen the void for returning veterans and their families.

“I think she first joined the American Legion looking for support when I went to Iraq, but from there she learned about a lot of unfair treatment that Veterans endured.  When she found out about the substandard helmets and equipment she went to Camp Pendleton and she learned more,” said Mark.

As her concern grew, she started to visit Vets who were missing limbs. 

She was instrumental in getting recognition and a memorial service for a Pvt. Lewis Alvarez from Pacoima — a WWII soldier Missing In Action in 1945.

When Aparicio learned the about the grief this family suffered because despite their best efforts and outreach to legislators, that year after year they were ignored or refused a military service for their loved one, she took action. When doors were shut, she continued to push until a letter she wrote to President Obama was finally answered.

A  full military service with honor guard was held for the young soldier nearly 70 years later. In an interview with the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol,  Aparacio said, “We wonder if there are many others like, Pvt. Alvarez, who served but are classified as missing in action/killed in action or lost at sea during World War II, or other wars that did not receive the honor of having a military service.”

Aparacio also made sure that medals including a Purple Heart were issued to the family for their son’s service.

“One thing about my mother is that she will always find a way to get the job done,” Mark said. “She is so hard-working. She goes out of her way for everyone. And she always, it seems, has goals.”

“Courage, that’s how I would describe my Mom”  said Genaro. “She has always taught that to me and my brother. I don’t know what the words, ‘I give up’ are; it’s not in my vocabulary because my mother never gives up … and she always believed in sticking by your family and never giving up for your kids. There is no picture of us drinking or smoking together, She was never the cool mother, she  was always clear in saying, ‘I’m not your friend, and I’m your parent.’”

Genaro points out that his mother has had her own challenges, even while she’s helping others, and has never had an easy ride bringing up two sons as a single parent.

“At one point, [after we moved from Pacoima] we lived in Canyon Country and she worked in Culver City and she made that drive without fail and sometimes she would work two jobs if she had to,” Genaro said.  “Even  after my mother was diagnosed with a a brain tumor, she continued to help others.”

Now that both sons have their own families, they see how much their mother has always done for them.

“We tell each other, we don’t know how she did it. Now it’s all about our kids, Mark said. “ Even if my mother doesn’t seem to have extra money, she always manages to find a way to have gifts for our kids, just like she did for us.  We always had Christmas and celebrated our birthdays, even though they are close to Christmas.”

“I’ve never known anyone else that has that much love for other people.” Genaro said.

“Tough love,” is also what his mother practiced, especially when Genaro described he went “left and his brother went right.” Referencing time he spent in prison, “Still my mother never gave up on me and loved me and my brother equally. She always taught us to be affect to care about each other.  She told us when I’m gone, you two will have each other.”

He credits his mother’s unconditional love with helping him begin to steer right and after a second stay in prison, clarity set in.

Genaro went back to school and got credentialed to be an alcohol and drug counselor and, following his mother’s example, began helping others, first volunteering at the nonprofit organization People in Progress. He now, like his brother Mark, is gainfully employed and has a growing family of his  own.

“There is nothing like going home and people want you there and are happy to see you. When I get home and my daughter sees me she drops everything she’s doing and runs to me.” said Genaro.

Mark is working on graduating with a bachelors degree in accounting next year.

“My mother gave us both a book titled, ‘My Love Will Always Find You’ by Nancy Tillman. Genaro said.

But clearly without reading the book, as they have expressed, “We are blessed, We have always known how much my mother loves us.”