Two meetings of interest to local veterans

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2017

On an early December morning, I arose early to tend to some of my routine chores. I hopped in my car and headed down to get the oil changed. Nothing terribly extraordinary but it lead to extraordinary events that share a common thread.

It was overcast but not rainy so I had planned to walk down to one of my favorite little diners, have breakfast and visit with a good friend. I always know he’ll be there, as it’s part of his morning routine. I thoroughly enjoy sitting and chatting with him on just about any topic, but I pay particularly close attention when he speaks of his father.

My friend’s father was a part of our Greatest Generation; he was a P-51D Mustang pilot in England during WWII. We finished breakfast and my friend dropped me down to the dealer to pick up my car. I was met with bad news that cost me a tidy sum but, anyone who understands mechanics and the theory of entropy knows this happens. I forlornly started to walk on back home and try to figure out how I could still pull off Christmas.

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I figured I needed another cup of coffee to ease my woes so I stopped in the Tryon Coffeehouse Co-Op. I like it there, nice folks, nice atmosphere, nothing ‘frou frou’. I ordered a large coffee and the young lady behind the counter said, “The boys are in the back.”

I was a bit vexed and replied, “Boys?”

She looked at my jacket and asked, “You’re a veteran, aren’t you?”

Which I responded, “You bet I am!”

Unbeknownst to me I had wandered into the first meeting of the Polk County Veterans. I was elated! There were eight of us at this meeting who had served from the Korean Conflict onward.  It was wonderful to be among my ilk!

One of our members is the Polk County Chairman of Commissioners, Tommy Melton. During the meeting, Tommy passed on a tidbit of information I found to be an eye-opener. He shared that of all the counties in North Carolina, Polk County has more veterans per capita than any other! I had to ponder this fact as I had retired from the Pope Air Force Base/Fort Bragg area and there are a lot of veterans there. However, per-capita, Polk County holds the title!

In the end, we established we would meet on the second Monday of each month at 0930 hrs (9:30 a.m.) at the Tryon Coffeehouse Co-Op.

Now, having come from an Air Force family (grandfather flew B-24 bombers in WWII and was a pilot in the Berlin Airlift, my father retired as a CMSgt after a 24-year career, and I had my own 24-year career) I’ve come to be somewhat of a historian, primarily, the history of the Mighty Eighth Air Force in England during WWII.

There are other units and air wars I study but the Mighty Eighth is my passion. I have helped many folks find information about their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and so on. I am an avid reader and researcher. Some folks read good fiction to escape, I read history. I maintain a personal library that contains approximately 500+ books that all pertain primarily to the Eighth Air Force. However, it also includes histories and narratives of the Ninth and Fifteenth Air Forces. This leads me to another meeting I attend, which is monumental in its roots and charter.

Every third Thursday of the month the Western North Carolina Wing of the Eighth Air Force Historical Society meets in Hendersonville at the Bay Breeze Seafood Restaurant. This meeting is the definition of ‘Living History’!

We have a P-51 Mustang Fighter pilot, a B-17 pilot (who was shot down and made POW), a tail gunner, a top turret gunner/engineer, and a P-47 Thunderbolt pilot! These gentlemen are in their 90s and are sharp as a tack. The stories they tell are riveting! This meeting was also attended by Asheville native and the pilot of the Memphis Belle, Colonel Robert K. Morgan.

During these meetings, I and two other members take information and photos gathered during interviews and produce a presentation highlighting the veterans and their military careers. There are several Polk county veterans that attend this meeting and we would like to reach out to more who would like to attend.

We meet the third Thursday of every month at the Bay Breeze Seafood Restaurant, 1830 Asheville Hwy., Hendersonville, NC 28791. Meeting starts at 1130 hrs (11:30 a.m.), all are welcome! If you have an interest in the history of the Greatest Generation, or are a veteran looking for good place to have a meal, and tell us your story, please join us! 

If you have any questions please feel free to contact me, Roburt A. Coates at 828-817-8013.

– article submitted by Roburt A. Coates