Just over two weeks ago, U.S. Army veteran Ludovico Anthony Calabro signed the final escrow papers and received the keys to his new home in Stockton. It marked an emotional moment for the 68-year-old Army veteran, whose life story is one of tribulations and redemptions, of demons and Deity, of patience and perseverance.
For CalVet loan originator Eric Myrdal, Calabro represents another success story of helping another veteran buy another home. That is something Myrdal has been doing for the past decade, and which the 99-year-old CalVet Home Loan Program does roughly 700 times to the tune of about $200 million in loans annually.
Calabro is the kind of veteran CalVet Home Loans can assist in ways the big banks cannot, Myrdal said. Certainly, the loan program finances California veterans who leave the military and go right into jobs with solid incomes. But it also works to help veterans like Calabro, who struggle after leaving the service – in his case 1973 – on many fronts before finding the stability that eluded them for many years.
What impressed Myrdal is that when Calabro initially lacked the consistent work history to qualify for a VA loan he didn’t get discouraged. Nor did he when Myrdal gave him a game plan that delayed his plan of home ownership by six months. Calabro was patient, he did what Myrdal suggested and the loan went through, as Myrdal said it would.
“He stayed the course,” Myrdal said. “He didn’t get downtrodden and give up. I told him, ‘stick with me and we’ll finish this deal. You’re a man of faith. Have faith in CalVet.” The bond between Myrdal and Calabro developed because Myrdal kept his word and gained Calabro’s trust in the process. “I opened up to him because I learned he was a person who cared and always listened to me,” Calabro said.
Raised by a loving mother and a troubled father, Calabro received his draft notice from the Army in June 1971. He served in the 7th (Cavalry) of the 1st Air Cavalry Regiment during the Vietnam War, though he remained stateside. The 7th’s roots go back to 1866, and its first Lieutenant Colonel was none other than George Armstrong Custer.
Calabro did two years of active duty, followed by four years of reserve duty, and was discharged honorably before going to work for the U.S. Navy at its telecommunications center on Rough and Ready Island in Stockton.
“I had top secret clearance,” he said. He worked there for two years before leaving to return to school on the GI Bill to learn auto body repair in the late 1970s. But over the next two decades, Calabro spiraled into hard drug use that led to arrests, jail time, court appearances and, by his own admission, way too many second chances. It cost him marriages and his family. He turned his life over to God numerous times, only to fail to hold up his end of the bargain, relapsing into drug use. God, Calabro said, did not give up on him, and neither did CalVet.
In 1991, he said, a San Joaquin County judge got his attention, told him, “ ‘You’ve gotten more favors than anybody I have ever known,’ ‘I don’t know why I’m doing this …’ ”
“He gave me a one-year residential program,” Calabro said.
He entered drug counseling through a Stockton church, living in a trailer and working as a security guard. He took courses at San Joaquin Delta College. He completed the program in 1992. The pastor told him not to leave. Instead, Calabro went to his mom’s house. His younger brother, Mario died of a drug-related lifestyle. Calabro relapsed into using drugs over the next couple of years.
“It was like being in the darkest period of my life,” Calabro said. “Death was on my heels and I knew it. I made a covenant with God.” He stopped using in 1994, and hasn’t used since. Calabro returned to Delta College in 1996, becoming certified as a human service worker in 1998 and as a substance abuse specialist two years later, working for San Joaquin Office of Substance Abuse.
Calabro retired in 2005 due to heart issues and to care for his mother, who passed in 2016. He eventually joined the Christian Life Center, where he became an usher and then was hired to work on the church’s security staff. That job – and the steady income it brings – is why he could qualify for a CalVet loan. He just needed to log enough time on the job to become eligible. He didn’t have that when he first applied for a loan in October 2019.
“I told him, ‘Show us six more months,” Myrdal said. “We can help you in April.”
“(Myrdal) refused to let me give up,” Calabro wrote in letter to CalVet. “At first, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but I knew this man really cared for me and for the veterans.”
Calabro believed in CalVet and Myrdal. CalVet and Myrdal believe in Calabro.
The loan closed in April, as Myrdal promised. Calabro is finally home.