Iraq vet home for holiday |

Iraq vet home for holiday

William Ferchland
Tracy Peterson / Tahoe Daily Tribune / While on leave from Iraq, Chris Herzog gets a patriotic tattoo done by artist Scooter Fahrberger at the Electric Pencil Tattoo Parlor in South Lake Tahoe on Monday.

Away from the sweltering desert heat of Iraq and whizzing rocket-propelled grenades, military police officer Chris Herzog is able to relax this Fourth of July.

For two weeks beginning June 25, the South Lake Tahoe native has no plans, no missions, no schedule.

But he did have one important Monday afternoon appointment.

The seven months in Iraq took a toll on Herzog, the father. He intended to take his break when his son, Christian, turned 1-year-old on June 22.

“I pretty much missed everything else he’s done,” he said with a wistful look. “I tried to get here to see some sort of first.”

He missed his son’s birthday by three days. Perhaps it was missing another milestone or wanting a first of his own that Herzog decided to get his first tattoo. At 1 p.m. Monday, he took off his shirt while Electric Pencil tattoo artist Scooter Fahrberger drew a sun, representing Christian, behind an eagle, portraying protection and freedom. Christian’s name spanned atop the sun.

In another room, Herzog’s wife, Veronica Herzog, was getting Christian’s name wrapped around a heart on her upper right back.

With his legs crossed at the ankles, his hands folded together and his dog tags displayed, Herzog had a serene look on his face, as if he was sunbathing.

Herzog, a 2002 graduate of South Tahoe High School, is nearing the end of a five-year contract with the Army. He enlisted when he was a high school junior eager for a challenge, but as a family man he’s already eyeing next summer when his work for the Army will be completed.

Sitting at Reagan Beach before getting inked, Herzog described a reality far from happy boaters and joyful children using nearby playground equipment. The heat in Iraq is around 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Training Iraqi police forces is “a long process.” Taking gunfire is a daily occurrence.

Herzog recalled roadside bombs, named “improvised explosive devices” in military-speak, blowing up his vehicle twice. He was uninjured but admitted eyeing the side of the road even when driving at Lake Tahoe.

For seven days a week Herzog’s work had consisted of waking around 5 a.m. and finishing his duties at 10 p.m. He remarked at the greenery that has greeted him on his return home.

“Over there it’s nothing but dirt, maybe some palm trees,” he said.

Being back in the states for Fourth of July had little impression on Herzog. For his mother, Lynn Ervin, it doesn’t matter when she can see her son and know he’s OK.

“Early in the morning when I hear car doors I, you know, have to wait and see if I hear the knock,” she said, fighting tears as she envisioned an Army official notifying her of her son’s death.

The war’s effect on his family is not lost on Herzog.

“It hurts more being over there,” he said.

Stepfather Michael Ervin hopes Herzog being in town will help others realize the sacrifices made by past soldiers during America’s birthday.

“This is an important day (July 4) and it’s really why he’s over there,” Ervin said, adding he’s not supportive of the war but backs Herzog.

Thinking of the fireworks display, Herzog mentioned his heart rate might increase during the first moments of the show. He said he won’t be nervous and know he’s not in harm’s way. After all, he’s in safe company.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

Readers around the Lake Tahoe Basin and beyond make the Tahoe Tribune's work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.

Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.

Your donation will help us continue to cover COVID-19 and our other vital local news.