The timing may have been coincidental, but Congressman Jesus “Chuy” Garcia visited Riverside on Nov. 3, a week before Veterans Day, to honor the late Dan Mega, a longtime Riverside resident and highly decorated U.S. Army veteran of the Vietnam War.
Garcia presented a folded U.S. flag to Mega’s widow, Ann, who was accompanied by her son, Danny, at that night’s meeting of the village board.
“Sergeant Mega embodied and still embodies what it means to be strong and an integral part of a community, not only being called to service in the military but being called to service in the community,” Garcia said prior to presenting the flag to Ann Mega. “He volunteered his time at community fundraisers and coached local sports clubs with his son.”
Ann and Dan Mega have called Riverside home for close to 40 years after marrying in 1985. While Dan Mega’s medals had been framed and displayed in the family home, Ann said he didn’t share much about his experiences in the service.
“He never really talked too much about how he got each medal or anything like that,” she said. “We really didn’t realize a lot of it until after he passed away.”
Dan’s son, Danny, said he had talked with his father about his wartime experiences a couple of times, but said it was a difficult subject.
“It was emotional for him, it was not all rainbows in Vietnam for him,” Danny said. “A lot of these stories came up in the last year or so. It’s tough readjusting to civilian life, so that took a little bit of time. I think he worked on it for years.”
Dan Mega deployed to Vietnam in 1968 as an M-60 machine gunner in the Army’s 9th Infantry Division. He was wounded twice in combat and received two Purple Hearts. One of the medals framed by the family is adorned with an oak leaf cluster, signifying a previous wound in battle.
In one instance, he reportedly was blown off a tank and sustained severe shrapnel wounds. He also received a bullet wound to the head. Mega was also awarded two bronze stars for valor during combat, a Vietnam Gallantry Cross, an Air Medal for heroism and an Army Commendation Medal, awarded for sustained acts of heroism or meritorious service.
He served in Vietnam until 1970 and had a long career working for Illinois Bell/AT&T. Ann, who also worked at AT&T, met Dan at company management class.
Mega died Jan. 22, but a large snowstorm on the day of his funeral service interfered with the some of the plans. While Mega was honored by name at Riverside’s Memorial Day ceremony this spring, Village President Joseph Ballerine said he wanted to do something more to honor Mega’s service.
Ballerine said he’d known the Mega family for years but was unaware of Dan’s service until much later.
Through Village Manager Jessica Frances, Ballerine was put in touch with Mega’s niece, Andrianna Peterson, who is assistant village manager in Hinsdale. State Rep. Michael Zalewski assisted Ballerine in connecting with Garcia.
After that, it was simply a matter of getting schedules arranged.
“He was so underspoken,” Ballerine said. “I was surprised when Andrianna sent me information about his service. I had no idea how decorated he was, but that’s veterans.”