Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Welcome Home Guys

A small sign hangs near the entrance to the Bravo Burger in Redlands, California. “Korean War - Combat Veterans." Customers come and go passing a table filled with men in their 70's. They look older though. It's a table filled with combat veterans from the Korean War. The men meet for breakfast once a month. And right now they're waiting for their "leader" Nacho. Nacho moves slowly across the room to take his seat near the head of the table. Nacho has sad eyes. He wraps his weathered golden brown hands around a cup of black coffee and takes a slow purposely sip.

“We all fought in a war called...The Forgotten War." Says Nacho Contreras, 77. The other men look at Nacho and slowly nod. "We'll never forget.” Nacho says a lot of their fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines never made it home. American forces suffered more than 36,000 casualties during the conflict. “We meet like this and enjoy our time together. We enjoy it for the fellows that aren't with us anymore.” Nacho says the numbers of their group has been larger in the past. “We used to have a Navy fellow that met with us, but he died last year.”

“These guys right here. At this table...all hero's.” Said Karo
Tonelli, 76. “Between us,” says Tonelli, motioning to the men sitting around the table, “We have every medal except the Congressional Medal of Honor. These guys have Silver Stars, Bronze Stars, and Purple Hearts.” Tonelli's list goes on as the the men break into half a dozen different conversations, all talking at once. They are swapping stories about their common experiences from a war 50
years and 6,000 miles behind them.

Anthony Urena, 78, points out the reason this informal group meets. Waving his hand around the table Urena says, “He knows what I'm talking about. I know what he's talking about. We understand each other. Unless you've been in combat you'll never understand what we've been through.” And to further make his point, Urena adds with a laugh. “You'll never understand combat anymore then I will what it's like to have a baby.” The men at the table laugh and nod.

As the table fills with black coffee, pancakes and bacon. The combat veterans talk around their breakfast closing the gap between yesterday and today. They share and remember with someone who understands. Someone like themselves.

"We'll never forget." Says Nacho.

1 comment:

srg said...

hmmm... "closing the gap between yesterday and today"--what a lovely phrase to describe such a poignant gathering. many thanks, rick.