They come together every year on Veterans Day. But many of the area's World War II veterans spend much of the rest of the year isolated from one another.
A new monthly breakfast series set to launch in March aims to provide an ongoing opportunity for the approximately 400 World War II veterans in Newburyport and Amesbury to stay in contact.
"More than a breakfast, this is a get-to-know-you event, where people can meet their fellow veterans and talk about themselves and their experiences in World War II," said Kevin Hunt, Newburyport's director of veterans services, who is organizing the event with his counterpart in Amesbury, Kristen Lucier.
The first breakfast social will be held Friday, March 16, at 8:30 a.m. at the Hollow Café© on Main Street in Amesbury, and then alternate the following month at a location yet to be determined in Newburyport.
Hunt estimates that there are about 200 World War II veterans in Newburyport, with a similar number thought to be living in Amesbury.
"An individual has to be at least 85 years old to be a World War II veteran, so if we get 30 to 40 to show up for the breakfast, we'll be really happy," Hunt said.
George Roaf of Newburyport will be among them. A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, Roaf served as a machinist's mate, third class, aboard the destroyer escort USS Fieberling, (DE-640). When Roaf's ship was launched in 1944, local newspapers heralded the Mare Island Naval Shipyard for its amazing pace of construction, having completed the ship in a record 231/2 days.
"I saw lots of ships get sunk," said Roaf, whose ship participated in the April 1945 invasion of Okinawa, where it was damaged by a near-miss during a kamikaze attack.
Today, Roaf is the commander of the American Legion post in Newburyport. The group has only 68 members.
"We've been trying to get a space in the new senior center if it ever gets built, and in the meantime, we meet either at the library or at City Hall," Roaf said. "I think it's a good idea to get together with veterans from another town on a regular basis, because the Amesbury veterans don't have a place to meet, either."
Fellow World War II veteran Blake Hughes of Newburyport also has the breakfast marked on his calendar.
"I'm really looking forward to it," said Hughes, whose post-war artistic career eventually earned him local fame as The Newburyport Printmaker.
Charlene Dolan of Amesbury, who operates Dolan Financial Services, is sponsoring the inaugural breakfast. While she hopes others will step forward to cover the cost of future gatherings, she's offered to pay for the second breakfast in Newburyport in April, if no other sponsors come forward.
Dolan's father, Charles "Bud" Dolan, 88, is an Army veteran of World War II who fought under General Patton at the Battle of the Bulge, which was waged from Dec. 16, 1944, to Jan. 25, 1945, and was considered the largest and bloodiest battle of the war.
"There are a lot of veterans in the area, and many of them are isolated, so they are looking forward to getting together with each other," Charlene Dolan said. "They want to be recognized, but tend to be humble, so we wanted to do something special without overdoing it, and this is what we came up with."
Although no formal guest speaker is planned for the inaugural March breakfast, Hunt said that organizers may choose a topic for discussion, such as what happened in the year 1943. There may be guest speakers or musical entertainment at future gatherings, although nothing has been confirmed yet.
Depending on the size of the turnout for the initial events, veterans of other wars, such as Korea and Vietnam, may be invited to future breakfast meetings. Hollow Café© can accommodate about 40 people. There is no charge for the breakfast, although donations will be accepted. Reservations are required.
Veterans interested in making a reservation for the March 16 breakfast or any local service clubs, private companies or individuals willing to sponsor future veterans breakfasts should contact veterans agents Kristen Lucier of Amesbury at 978-388-8136 or Kevin Hunt of Newburyport at 978-465-4418, or sponsor Charlene Dolan at 978-388-3468.