Most mornings, I go to Wally’s Restaurant in East Ridge and have breakfast. I usually sit by myself, minding my own business and enjoying the most important meal of the day. The auburn-haired beauty Tina, or her pretty mom Janice always make sure customers get the very best service at Wally’s. That’s two generations that work at Wally’s, and Tina’s daughter-in-law works there from time to time, too. That makes three generations.
For quite some time, I noticed a table of older gentlemen, but never paid them much attention, except maybe to chuckle at something funny they might say. One day, out of the blue, one of the guys asked if I would like to join their group. It sounded like fun, so over to their table I went. When I say they are older gentlemen, for the most part they are way older than practically anyone else. I would guess their average age to be around 85. Some are older, and some are a tad younger. There is Jack, and Wes, and Ed, and Ray, and John, and Rick, and a few others from time to time. Most are WWII veterans, and a few are even Freemasons, like myself. I was honored to be sitting with them on that day, but my life has been enriched even more, as I now spend most mornings with these guys at breakfast.
This is America’s greatest generation. I didn’t give that name to folks from this time period – lots of people more important than I did that long before I just wrote it a few minutes ago. My Dad, who would have been 101 years old this year was a part of that generation. My Uncle Bob, a veteran of three wars – WWII, Korea, and Vietnam was from this generation. He used to say that he was born at precisely the wrong time to be eligible to fight in three different wars.
My new friend Jack was in the U.S. Navy. He spent two years on a 200’ flat bottom ship that carried armored equipment and personnel. These were kind of like the ones you see in movies at the Normandy Invasion, where the fronts open up and out come jeeps and tanks and such. Two years – that is how long Jack was on that boat, without getting off. He went to Okinawa on one, by way of the Panama Canal to get there, too.
At 19, Wes was on a ship from America to Europe with 10,000 other service members. I just spent 11 days on a luxury cruise ship and to be honest it got a tad old after a week or so. Wes spent weeks on one, crossing the rough Atlantic Ocean, eating practically nothing but hard-boiled eggs. He remembers crossing near the point where the Titanic went down 30 years prior to his voyage.
Ray pulled up a picture of himself on the internet – it was from WWII and showed a baseball team of servicemen, including Ray. Ray loves baseball and even has a grandson that plays Major League ball. The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Remember, the 50th anniversary of WWII was 20 years ago. There aren't many WWII vets still around, but there is a whole table full right there at Wally's in East Ridge every morning, and I have the privilege to sit with them. Some days, I have aches and pains that come with getting older, but I look forward to seeing these gentlemen every day. At 80-92 years of age, they manage to get themselves there without complaining, so I can too. They have some great stories to tell. I can tell you this - there is no better honor for me than being in their company.
Since this is the music column, I will add that one of them said he would like to see Ray Price at Riverbend. I will sure pass that on.
For local music info, try www.chattanoogaentertainers.com or www.chattanooganightscope.com. They both have great local music info and schedules. For local info on Country music, try Jim Boles’ site www.chattacountry.ning.com.
Email Bob Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org or catch him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/davrik2000 .