Local veterans bond and community in weekly meetings
COLORADO SPRINGS – The power of veteran friendship can go a long way, and it happens every Wednesday morning at the Black Eyed Pea restaurant in Colorado Springs.
A large group of veterans meets at the North Academy restaurant around 10:30 a.m. every Wednesday morning. It is a chance for them to listen to each other’s stories during the war and after, but it is also an opportunity to build a community with other veterans.
The weekly meeting began over ten years ago when six veterans met at another restaurant in town. Roger Fortin, an 89-year-old veteran, started organizing the rallies back then and through his efforts they have grown into the great gatherings that take place today.
“About 14 years ago I came here on a trip and called two of the guys I was stationed with there, and we met for coffee,” said Fortin, who served in the US Navy for six years and the
US Air Force for 17 years. He also spent over four years in Vietnam while on duty, and was stationed at Cheyenne Mountain.
Fortin also calls and reminds the veterans of the meeting.
“There were six of us 14 years ago, and now there are over 200 on my phone that I call quite frequently. A lot of them don’t have much other means than this, to meet people. and other veterans, ”says Fortin.
Veterinarians of all ages, branches and grades join every week. One of them is Bill Roche, a 96 year old US Army veteran.
“I started serving in the Air Force during World War II and enlisted in June 1943 at the age of 18,” Roche said.
Roche mentioned that he had met around 30 to 40 people and was able to connect with others, young and old, at the weekly gatherings.
“They all have different stories and things to tell, and you meet a lot of different people,” Roche said. “When you get to my age you don’t have much to do, so this is the event of the week to come here and talk to people.”
For many, including Blake Lindner, a US Air Force veteran, it was also the highlight of their week.
“I love meeting other veterans. It’s like living history, especially veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, and it allows me to recharge my battery. I love coming. here and look forward to every Wednesday, ”Lindner said.
For Gloria Varner, the general manager of the restaurant, she is more than happy to welcome the group because she too comes from a military family. His brother was a Navy for 23 years and his son was in the Navy for five years.
“It is such an honor to have everyone here because they are the ones who helped make this country what it is today,” said Varner. “It’s a big, happy family. They all hug each other when they come in, they hug each other when they go out, and it’s such an honor to be with them every week.”
While they all have different stories to tell, it’s the camaraderie and community that brought them all together.
“That’s what brings them together. They have the same common core of experiences, even though it’s a different war, they can still communicate and they do,” Fortin said. “We also recognize those who are missing but never forgotten and those who were part of the group who are no longer with us.”
Sometimes Fortin also calls the veterans ahead and asks them to come in uniform.