Conversations ranged from children playing soccer among land mines in Bosnia to the aftermath of the atomic bomb in Nagasaki during Friday’s informal monthly meeting of military veterans at The Lamp Post Cafe.
“OK, who’s got a story? It can be funny or serious. No stories? Does that mean I’ve got to read mine?” asked co-organizer Jim Fields before reminding the nearly two dozen participants that they are rapidly losing members of “the greatest generation” without hearing the stories of their time in service of this nation.
Fields told the small crowd his story was intended to be funny, before recounting a memory of Air Force basic training in 1969.
Fields said he was one of five young men from Appalachia training alongside counterparts “from places like New York and New Jersey.” One of the northern-born recruits seemed to enjoy picking on them, he explained, until they hatched a plan to carry his bunk into the latrine, while he was still asleep on top.
Acknowledging their drill sergeant seemed to be aware of the need “for some discipline,” Fields said the soldier was awakened in the latrine the next morning and given an extensive lecture about sleeping there. After that, Fields said the country boys had no trouble with him.
In fact, he said, the boys from Kentucky and Tennessee felt they had things pretty good during basic training. “The drill instructor couldn’t work us hard enough. We had more food than we needed and more clothes than we had ever owned,” he said, explaining he carried everything he owned “except my .12-gauge shotgun” in a pair of paper “pokes.”
World War II veteran Jimmy Swindell of Russell was among the most appreciated men among the morning crowd, accompanied by his granddaughter Kas Kaewliam, who explained they happened to stop by the restaurant at the end of last month’s first-Friday coffee gathering and made a point of returning for the May session.
“It’s been very interesting,” Swindell said, noting he served in the Navy from 1944 to 1947, was in Algeria when Germany surrendered and was on Okinawa when the Japanese gave up their fight. Swindell vividly recalled the sights he witnessed in the remnants of Nagasaki after an atomic bomb had been dropped there, including a perimeter with “trees blackened like charcoal,” and puddles of melted glass with “no buildings standing” other than a machine shop with what seemed like a perfectly operational lathe inside.
“It was hard to believe that one bomb did all that,” he said.
“Those two bombs ended the war and probably saved a lot of American lives,” he concluded, noting he would have likely been part of an invasion force bound for mainland Japan if the atomic bombs had not stifled that country’s military ambitions.
Fellow veteran Gary Arrington introduced himself to Swindell, thanked him for his service and told the senior veteran about a time when a woman in Poland thanked him for what Americans did to liberate that country during World War II. Arrington said he told the woman he couldn’t take credit for that, but promised he would pass along her appreciation anytime he encountered a veteran who had served during that time.
The informal veterans group meets at The Lamp Post Cafe starting at 9 a.m. on the first Friday of every month. There are no membership fees or other costs, and veterans and their supporters are encouraged to attend.
TIM PRESTON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2651.