NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 25, 2012

Common denominator

Group hopes to inspire gatherings of WWII vets

By Alex Lippa Staff Writer
Newburyport Daily News

---- — AMESBURY — Some things never change.

It’s long 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 many of the veterans who attend breakfasts and luncheons organized by the Amesbury and Newburyport Veterans 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 Veterans Legacy Initiative event, a breakfast last week at the Hollow Cafe in Amesbury.

Organizers hope the regular events inspire organizations in other communities in the region to have similar meals where World War II veterans can meet, socialize and be thanked for their service.

Charlene Dolan, one of the program’s directors, started the effort in March because her father is 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.

The first monthly breakfast attracted 48 veterans and 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, where it has primarily been based, and will next meet for lunch at The Hungry Traveler in Salisbury in November.

“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 re-connect with other veterans,” Dolan said.

“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. 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.”

At a recent meeting, a man who was in the British Royal Army who had never been invited to any event with U.S. veterans dropped in. He brought a scrapbook sharing his experiences and was very popular among the veterans.

While some veterans hesitate to share stories from the war, others, like George Duffy of Brentwood, N.H., formerly of Newburyport, 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.”

The meals are meant to be casual, with not much structure so the veterans are able to mingle with each other. The group serves veterans from Amesbury, Newburyport, Salisbury and Merrimac, but welcomes all World War II veterans.

Ideally, Dolan hopes other communities will look at the success of the Amesbury-Newburyport initiative and organize gatherings for their own 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.