A great way to meet war veterans is to go where they gather.
For years I’ve been attending lunch meetings of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge, who meet once a month at the Terrace restaurant in Walnutport. And in 2009 I went to my first meeting of the Lehigh Valley Chapter of the U.S. Submarine Veterans of World War II, who meet quarterly at the City View Diner in Whitehall.
A dozen members of the Bulge group have become subjects of my Morning Call series War Stories: In Their Own Words, including Eddie Sakasitz, who served in an anti-tank battalion of the German army. Eddie isn’t a Bulge vet; he served in the Balkans, on the Russian front and in Italy, where he was badly wounded. But he was invited to join the group after his story ran early in 2007. http://www.mcall.com/news/all-5sakasitz1mar04,0,1329029.story Since then, he and his wife, Catherine, have been regular attendees.
The Bulge vets have been meeting since the 1990s and always draw a large group – including spouses and other family members and interested folks like me – for a hearty lunch and a program featuring a speaker.
A total of 87 people attended the August meeting and heard Auschwitz survivor Severin Fayerman. I sat at a table with Dan Curatola, Mark Kistler and Marion Arner Jones. Dan is a 1st Infantry Division veteran of the North Africa, Sicily and Normandy landings, whose D-Day story I did for Memorial Day 2009; http://www.mcall.com/news/all-a1_5curatola1.6866562may25,0,4282737.story Mark was with the 4th Cavalry Division; and Marion was an Army nurse with the 34th Evacuation Hospital. Her story ran on Veterans Day 1999. http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-marianjones,0,4225670.story
None of them knew the others before the lunch. As they chatted, it turned out that Mark’s unit was on the flank of Dan’s unit in Normandy, and both Mark and Dan were in the Battle of the Bulge with Marion.
Hank Kudzik invited me to a submarine vets lunch in the fall of 2009 while I was interviewing him for a story that ran in April. http://www.mcall.com/news/local/all-5kudzik.7185625apr05,0,7508994.story One of the former sailors I saw there was Bob Holden, who was aboard the USS Finback when it rescued future President George H.W. Bush, a Navy pilot whose torpedo-bomber had been shot down. I did Bob’s story for Veterans Day 1999. http://www.mcall.com/news/warstories/all-robertholden,0,2164204.story
The sub vets’ gatherings are a time for camaraderie and remembrance. They draw a few dozen members and their wives or other family members.
The Battle of the Bulge group has its next meeting Sept. 21, and the scheduled speaker is a generation younger than the veterans, but always eager to spend time with them because of what they’ve experienced and the stories they can tell. I’ll be standing before them, telling them about my interviews with vets for The Morning Call.