EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

October 25, 2012

Group hopes to become model for gatherings of WWII vets

By Alex Lippa Staff Writer
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — Some things never change.

It’s often been said that members of the Greatest Generation, those who served in the U.S. military in the early 1940s, talk little about what they experienced in World War II.

And so it is with some of the veterans who attend breakfasts and luncheons organized by the Amesbury and Newburyport Veteran’s Legacy Initiative.

“We tend to talk about everything except the war,” said Andrew Benson of Amesbury, who fought in the Battle of Saipan in the Philippines in 1944. “We all know what it was and while I don’t think anyone regrets having served, it’s not something that we’re happy about.”

Benson was among the veterans who attended the most recent Veteran’s Legacy Initiative event, a breakfast last week. Organizers hope the regular events will inspire Haverhill and other communities in the region to arrange similar meals where World War II veterans can meet, socialize and be thanked for their service.

While some veterans hesitate to share stories from the war, others, like George Duffy of Brentwood, N.H., have plenty of tales to tell.

“I was a captain of a ship during the war and it got sunken by the Germans,” Duffy said at last week’s event. “I was held as a prisoner of war for quite some time.”

Charlene Dolan, one of the program’s directors, started the effort because her father was a World War II veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge in Normandy. She noticed he was very reserved about his past and wanted him to interact with peers from the war.

“This isn’t so much to honor them because they are already so humble, but instead it’s to give them a chance to be together and share those bonds,” Dolan said. “They have a lot of stories that they’ll share with each other that may not even share with their own families. The conversations just keep flowing. It’s unbelievable.

“Many World War II veterans don’t go to senior centers and we thought it would be an opportunity for them to get together and socialize and reconnect with other veterans,” Dolan said.

The Veteran’s Legacy Initiative has held monthly breakfasts at The Hollow Cafe in Amesbury for several months. The program started in March and attracted 48 veterans to the first breakfast. The number has risen to as many as 70 veterans in recent meetings. The program has become so popular that it has outgrown The Hollow Cafe and will next meet for lunch at The Hungry Traveler in Salisbury in November.

The meals are meant to be casual, with not much structure so the veterans are able to mingle among themselves. The group serves veterans from Amesbury, Newburyport, Salisbury and Merrimac, but welcomes all World War II veterans. At a recent meeting, a man who was in the British Army who had never been invited to any event with U.S. veterans dropped in. He brought a scrapbook to share his experiences and was very popular among the other veterans.

Dolan said she hopes other cities and towns in the region will notice the success of the program and look to set up their own gatherings for World War II veterans.

“We hope other communities will see what we’re doing and consider doing the same type of thing where they get people together socially,” she said.