They are men in the winter of their lives, bound together by what they did decades ago in service to their country. And while most of them still have a sweet tooth, all carry memories.
A few dozen veterans, their wives and families and friends, sat down to their annual veterans breakfast last week in Puyallup’s Harvest Gate community. They sang the songs for each military branch represented – the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard – and ate baked goods..
“This is the same coat I wore in the Army 70 years ago,” said 88-year-old Larry Wilson, tugging at the sleeves. “The same hat, too – though the moths have put a few holes in it.”
Across the room, Aubrey Smith was in a new uniform, purchased for occasions like this. A proud Marine, he left a life in the South to serve in World War II, and stayed through two more wars.
“I volunteered right out of the cotton fields and went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina,” Smith said. “I trained in anti-aircraft, radar and went to Japan. I wound up staying in 30 years, going to Korea and Vietnam.”
Now 89, Smith retired as a staff sergeant with more than two dozen medals, including the Legion of Merit.
“I was most proud of that,” he said.
Some of the veterans laughed hardest at their own stories and themselves.
“I was drafted by the Army in World War II and didn’t want to go into the infantry, so I enlisted in the Navy,” Loren Peterson said. “After they’d done the paperwork, I told them I’d been drafted. The only way they could get me in the Navy was to back-date my enlistment, so I had to leave that night.
“It turned out, I was a terrible sailor. I was from Minnesota and was seasick my entire time at sea. They drydocked my old ship and it’s now a museum piece in Turkey. The Navy asked if I wanted to go see it one more time. I didn’t.”
Peterson married his wife Arlene 65 years ago. He has stayed away from the ocean ever since.
Dick Pasco enlisted two weeks out of high school, a family tradition, and deployed to Korea.
“My father fought in World War I, my older brother in World War II,” he said. “I wound up serving 39 years, 22 of those overseas, including three tours of duty in Vietnam as a fighter pilot.”
In flight school in Texas, Pasco said he wandered by his roommate looking at a photograph one day.
“I asked ‘How did an ugly guy like you get a beautiful girlfriend like that?’ and he said, ‘She’s my sister,’ ” Pasco said. “I started writing to Sandy right then, met her in Pittsburgh on my way to the Netherlands and from Holland, I proposed by mail. We were married in 1957.”
Yes, they’re still married.
Wilson, the 88-year-old who still fits into his World War II Army jacket, attended Thursday’s breakfast with his daughter and son-in-law, sporting a bruise near his left eye.
“Wounded by pavement,” he said. “Bent over to pick something up and fell on my face.”
Asked about his service – Wilson was at Guadalcanal – he chose to talk more about coming home from war.
“I had a ’39 Plymouth with all the frills when I left home. When I got back, the Plymouth was gone, and I never did get a good explanation what happened out of the five kids still at home,” he said.
“My twin brother had been sent to Europe because they wanted to split us up, and when we both got home in ’46, we bought ‘new’ cars – 1935 Fords.
“My girlfriend when I was drafted got married before I came home. It worked out well. We’d never have lasted,” Wilson said. “The woman I married had been in sixth grade when I was drafted, but Barb and I are still married after 64 years.
“I’d say I got lucky.”Larry LaRue: 253 597-8638