The Lehigh Valley Veterans History Project Roundtable resumed its monthly meetings Thursday night after a summer break, and I had a rare opportunity to go. The meetings, on the last Thursday of each month at 7 p.m. at the Lehigh County Senior Center in Allentown, are held while I’m working, but
this time I got to escape my desk at The Morning Call because I was on company business. I was at the senior center to promote my book, War Stories in Their
Own Words, just published by the newspaper.
The place was packed with more than 130 people, including several of the veterans in my book – Evangeline Coeyman, Hank Kudzik and Levi Borger. (You can order the book, a collection of personal accounts from 1999 to the present, from The Morning Call at https://secure.mcallcommunity.com/store/pages/war-stories.php)
District Attorney James B. Martin and his executive aide, Debbie Garlicki, were there to drum up interest in a new initiative in the DA’s office, the Lehigh County
Veterans’ Mentor Program. The voluntary program, which I’ve blogged about
before, offers veterans caught up in the criminal justice system an opportunity
to speak with a vet who has “been there,” according to a brochure. The mentor
acts as an advocate and ally and helps the vet navigate the criminal justice
system and life issues. Mentors are trained volunteers who serve or have served
in the U.S. military. Honorably discharged vets currently charged with a crime can apply for a mentor.
The main speaker for the night, 86-year-old World War II vet Matt Gutman, had
addressed the roundtable before about his experiences in the Navy aboard an
LST, or landing ship tank, and was back because he’d done so well his first
time. You had to marvel when he talked about surviving five typhoons as well as
Roundtable leaders Mike Sewards, Paul Fiske and Dick Musselman are passionate about hearing and preserving veterans’ stories for posterity. It’s the driving force as well behind my 12-year-old series in The Morning Call, “War
Stories: In Their Own Words.” I was reminded of the importance of our work
when I opened the newspaper Sunday and saw that another one of my interviewees is gone – Pearl Harbor survivor Warren G.H. Peters of Catasauqua, who died Thursday at age 90. Here’s the link to my story on him, which ran on Dec. 7, 2008: http://www.mcall.com/news/all-warrenpeters120708,0,6625997.story “Pete” amazed me because he had saved so many souvenirs, even a menu from a favorite restaurant in Honolulu.
The roundtable’s next meeting is Thursday, Oct. 27. Its speaker will be Marine Cpl. Robert Toth, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I won’t get to hear him because I’ll be working, but I hope you consider going. We don’t hear enough from 21st century veterans. For more info, here’s the roundtable’s website: