Veterans meet weekly for breakfast, reminiscences
A group of American servicemen sits in a circle around a grenade every Wednesday morning, drinking coffee and swapping war stories.
Jim Ferguson, a Marine who fought in World War II, made the wooden grenade centerpiece for the table at the Prescott Valley Denny's. The veterans, most of them Marines, have been meeting for more than 20 years, though group members have come and gone during that time.
They gathered Aug. 1 to discuss the history of American warfare in which each of them played a role, as they do every week, with a special focus that day on Iwo Jima. They also discussed how the country has changed over the years, particularly in how it regards its veterans.
Ferguson, who has been sculpting for nearly 30 years, displayed the wooden grenade attached to a plaque bearing the names of some of the group's current members and their respective ranks in the service.
"Jerry Bonkowski - a fellow Marine and friend of mine - and I started meeting for breakfast each week in 1981. He invited a friend, they invited a friend, and it's expanded from there," said Sheldon Lasky, a World War II veteran who fought at Iwo Jima. "The group's had maybe 11 people at most, but five or six is about average."
During a recent meeting, the group's discussion turned toward the battle of Iwo Jima, and they all had strong opinions.
Lasky took issue with statements by Jim Perry, a World War II Navy veteran, who shared his own recollections of Iwo Jima in a previous article.
"I want to make sure that nothing's said against the U.S. Navy. We Marines never could have got by without the Navy guys helping. I just don't think his recollections are right," Lasky said, referring to Perry's estimations of U.S. casualties.
Marion Branch, a fellow Marine who fought at Iwo Jima, produced an official document issued at one of the annual Iwo Jima memorial events at Camp Pendleton in California.
"According to the official counts, our losses were around 6,600," Branch said. "There were maybe 22,000 or so dead Japanese, though, but it was six-thousand-some-odd American dead, there."
Branch spoke of an occasion in 1954 in which he returned to Iwo Jima as part of his service to the marines.
"We were afraid to walk around there. Unlike most battlefields, Iwo Jima never got cleaned up," Branch said. "There was spent artillery lying around, some duds; it just wasn't a safe place."
"These guys are the greatest generation, you know? They're the reason I wanted to join the Marines," said Steve Allbritton, a Marine who fought in Vietnam. "Attitudes have shifted a lot over the years. I remember being spit on, called a baby-killer, but now, people thank me for my service and shake my hand."
They all agreed that the people of this area show a higher degree of patriotism than most other places.
"There's a lot of Marines, a lot of veterans in general, here," Allbritton said. "The people here really respect servicemen. The VA hospital has a lot to do with it a lot of older vets like to be close to a VA, but it's more than that. It's the people, too. They really understand and respect the sacrifices we've made."
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