ATTLEBORO — Navy veteran Ron Tyler was keeping a close eye on Angel Hair Pasta, making sure it wasn’t overcooked Thursday morning at the VFW Post on Park Street.
Tyler was helping pack lunch for the veterans and maybe a few strangers who it was hoped would stop by after reading the sign out front: “Lunch with a vet every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.”
He said they had a few people over from time to time.
“When a person first comes in, we introduce them to the crowd,” he said, stirring the pot in the Mickey Zito Galley.
The intro makes up for a moment when a couple walked in and didn’t mingle with anyone.
Zito was a WWII veteran who cooked for his fellow veterans in that same kitchen for many years.
The usual crowd is 10 to 20 people, Tyler said.
“We try to make it as fun as possible,” he said. “If you’re doing it and you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
Music from the 1950s and 1960s played in the background.
Pat Geminiani, a volunteer who works with the VFW and American Legion posts that occupy the same building, was the cook who created the lunch.
Among veterinarians, she is known as “the boss”.
She said she put the music on early.
“It’s the first thing I do when I arrive,” she says.
Elvis and the Platters were among the featured artists – good old rock ‘n’ roll and some mellow tunes too.
She made two meat sauces, one spicy and one regular.
There was salad, bread, desserts, sodas and water.
The food was good, very good.
The price is small, six dollars. Nowhere else will anyone have such a cheap good lunch.
But the food, good as it was, was a way to attract members of the community and get to know the men and women whose military service kept America free.
VFW post commander Jerry Lynch said it was a way for the post to raise awareness in the community.
But on Thursday, the eve of Veterans Day, the day America celebrates the sacrifices of those who served, those who returned and those who didn’t, the only outsider was a reporter who was welcomed with open arms.
The atmosphere was festive. And it should be. The vets were at home, in a peaceful place, with each other and out of danger.
The vets who come every Thursday are looking forward to it.
The oldest are now Vietnam veterans. Most WWII guys are gone. And the Korean War guys are aging fast, now well into their 80s or early 90s if they’re not already dead.
The youngest come from Iraq and Afghanistan.
One of them was Brian Donato, 35, who served two tours in Iraq as a member of the US Marine Corps.
He brought his curly-haired daughter Savannah, 2 1/2, to lunch.
She ran to hide behind chairs and entertain some of the elders.
Savannah was too young and innocent to know about the horrors veterans had experienced during the war and too young and innocent to know about the evil in the world that breeds war.
But she brought smiles and joy to the room.
To Savannah, the vets were friendly old men who smiled and played with her like grandfathers.
But veterans all know the evil of war – death and chaos.
Donato was based in Alanbar Province in Iraq. His unit was integrated into the Iraqi police and army.
They took care of road safety.
“Most of what we saw were IEDs (improvised explosive devices),” he said.
And they were attacked by at least one suicide vehicle.
IEDs have killed many American soldiers and shattered the bodies of many more who survived and who, if lucky, now walk around on artificial legs or pick up cans from shelves with artificial arms.
Some are permanently stuck in wheelchairs and some have suffered severe brain damage that limits their ability to communicate.
And some soldiers have never been physically harmed, but the trauma of seeing friends killed and the sheer terror of war unsettles the psyches of many.
Another younger veteran is Shane Rioux. He was a member of the Massachusetts National Guard and retired in 2007.
His wife, Tanya Rioux, was scheduled to be the guest speaker at Friday’s Veterans Day ceremony at the Veterans Pavilion in South Attleboro.
Shane Rioux has been deployed to Bosnia and Iraq.
He was a sergeant and one of the heads of the personal security detail of the American ambassador to Iraq.
The embassy was located in the former palace of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
One of Rioux’s scariest moments was when a rocket landed near where his company was doing physical training.
One of the soldiers was shot, a North Attleboro resident whose name has not been released, and while doctors worked on him, Rioux kept talking to him so he wouldn’t be in a state. of choc.
And suddenly the soldier blurted out, “Shut up and take me to the (combat support hospital) checkout,” which made Rioux laugh in a very stressful situation.
Doctors saved the injured man’s leg, but he needs special shoes provided by the Veterans Administration.
“It Still Hurts”
Robert Ream, 74, was treating a well-bandaged finger on his left hand, chewed by a ripper.
He said the machine pulled out a piece of it.
“It still hurts,” he said.
Ream is a Vietnam veteran. He joined the army in 1966 and toured the country from September 1968 to September 1969.
He got married a week before being deployed.
His young wife did not know if she would ever see him again, so many people have died in this war-torn country.
To date, 58,195 names of the dead are inscribed on the wall in Washington, DC
Ream was stationed in the central highlands and his mission was dangerous.
His job was basically to spy on the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army.
He was part of a two-man team that crawled deep into the jungle to find out what the enemy was up to.
“I did a whole bunch of stuff,” Ream said, “none of which I would be happy to do again.”
He said he sometimes crawled up to 5 or 6 feet from the enemy.
“I was as close as I was to him,” he said, pointing to someone a few yards away from him.
In this situation, silence is golden.
He was also a “tunnel rat”.
Armed with a .45 caliber handgun and a flashlight, Ream crawled through the tunnels the VC used as hiding places.
After he entered, a buddy stood guard at the hole so the enemy wouldn’t dive after him and kill him.
“I’ve done it many times,” Ream said.
The moment he came closest to death was when a rocket landed near him and threw him into the air.
He escaped with a few bruises, muscle sprains and a terrifying memory.
“It freaked me out (expletive),” he said.
Ream said he and his father both served in Vietnam and were both sickened by a chemical known as Agent Orange, a herbicide and defoliant the US military used to clean up the jungle and root out the enemy.
He suffers from diabetes and heart problems due to the poison.
“My doctor said I was either a cat (with nine lives) in a past life, or I had an enchanted life,” Ream said.
Soldiers in Vietnam learned not to get too emotionally close to others because they could be here today and leave tomorrow.
“I lost a lot of friends. We were watching each other, but at the same time you were learning to keep your distance,” he said.
When Ream returned home, he brought war, as so many soldiers do.
“I would have nightmares,” Ream said. “It took a while before I could sleep with my wife because I was struggling a lot.”
Marty Clapp, who has a cane to help him walk, was another Vietnamese veteran enjoying lunch and the company of fellow veterans.
He is from Mansfield and graduated from Mansfield High in 1961.
“One of my best friends, James Albertini, was killed there,” he said.
He served in the country from June 1968 to June 1969.
Clapp was sent to Vietnam during Phase II of the Tet Offensive, a massive northern attack on South Vietnam that began in January 1968.
The attack came as a surprise, and Clapp blamed intelligence failures for the deaths of many people.
He said one of the scariest moments was his arrival in the country.
The C-130 bringing it was hit by shrapnel and burst into flames. The pilot managed to land the plane and the 40 soldiers on board, all new to the war, were able to escape, he said.
The landing was confused and dangerous.
“Still to this day, I don’t know where I landed,” Clapp said.
Like Ream, he bears scars from the war, including diabetes caused by Agent Orange.
Clapp must wear special shoes designed for diabetic patients.
He receives two pairs a year from the VA.
The name on them is Nike, but they were made in Vietnam – one more reminder of an experience he will never forget.
Another is a lighter that Clapp carries to this day.
He had it engraved in Vietnam with the dates of his service and a map on the back.
If he could talk, what would he say?
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