World War II Vets from Missouri Veterans Home honored at Cafe B-29
Less than three percent of the 16-million Americans who served in World War Two are still alive.
They're passing away at the rate of 348 per day so Cafe B-29 B-29 and Seasons Hospice of Springfield honored a group of nine World War II veterans on Monday at the restaurant.
"My grandfather was a World War II vet, the greatest man I've ever known," said Cafe B-29 owner Chaz Koeppen when asked why the tribute was so important to her and the staff.
The restaurant's walls are covered with military memorabilia including photos of soldiers.
"It's taken on a life of it's own," Koeppen said. "Our veterans have developed this cafe. It's taken on a very special spirit."
Most of the vets needed walkers or wheelchairs to get around but as they came off the bus to cheers and applause from a group of well-wishers who had gathered at the cafe's entrance, you could see their eyes light up and a few tears being shed.
"I have a guilty feeling about that," said Ken Gaines, one of the veterans being honored. "Why me, Lord?"
"This generation is very humble, too humble at times," said Tricia Coon, one of the Seasons Hospice staff members who came out to show their support. "You just couldn't help but be overwhelmed with emotion when you see how happy it makes them."
Still, these members of the greatest generation couldn't quite understand why they were being honored with a free meal, pins of honor, and their service photos posted on the wall of the restaurant.
"We're not heroes, what the Sam Hill!" said veteran Jay Ballew with a laugh. "We went in there, done our job, came back home and went to work."
But as those at the ceremony pointed out, they were heroes because they pledged to put their lives on the line to save our nation.
96 year-old Louie Young admitted he thought he'd never live past his 20's after losing his leg in the war over 70 years-ago.
"Wondered at times if I was ever going to make it out or not," he said of the war years. "I was scared too death. If anybody tells ya they weren't scared they're lying."
Several of the supporters who turned out were doing so in memory of their family members who had passed away.
"My dad was a World War II vet," said Gene Gibbons. "And when I see them here it just blesses my heart that we live in a free country and that we have the opportunity to honor these men."
"My dad served for 22 years and was a prisoner of war," said Judy Marcellino. "I'm officially an army brat but it's an honor to appreciate them and I love 'em all."
But after surviving the War and helping to save the world, the remaining World War II vets are having to face their own mortality again as age is catching up with them.
The 95 year-old Gaines, who saw the U.S.S.Arizona go down at Pearl Harbor, compared that sad day to seeing his friends now passing on at the Veterans Home.
"I looked down at the Arizona when I flew over Pearl Harbor at (thousands) of people who got their bullets all at the same time," he said. "Well here (at the Veterans Home) are some 200 of us and we're getting our bullets almost daily down there.
And that's why Gaines feels a little guilty. He'd like for his buddies to be here to experience the same adoration he's getting.
"It's an honor to be honored," he said.