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Area veterans bond at American Legion

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David P. O’Dea and Dick Bethune share a laugh together Thursday at American Legion Post 58.

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BY WILLIAM F. WEST
Staff Writer

Sunday, March 24, 2019

American Legion Post 58 on Thursday mornings is a scene of veterans who define camaraderie.

Located at 2731 N. Church St., veterans who served in the nation's war eras stop by the local home of the patriotic organization to enjoy coffee, doughnuts and conversation.

"I come over here every Thursday — and I'm not going to a doctor's appointment," said Bob Marriott, 85, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 1951-54. "I like to visit with all these veterans."

As for the reason, Marriott said, "Because they are down to earth. They all had similar experiences – not exactly the same but we've all been under the military discipline. And we just have a good time talking."

"A lot of 'em are not quite as old as I am. I might be the oldest rat in the barn," Marriott said, drawing chuckles from his fellow veterans sitting alongside him. "I don't know, but they're close behind."

Marriott was an electronics technician and was assigned to the Courier, which was a cutter and a unique vessel. That was because the Courier was a U.S. State Department project specially designed to transmit broadcasts of American news from Greece to behind the then-Iron Curtain of Communism.

American Legion Post 58 has long been supporting the Rocky Mount community and veterans. And this month marks the 100th anniversary of the American Legion, which is headquartered in Indianapolis.

Anyone can stop by Post 58 on Thursday mornings and get to know veterans who were a part of American military history, including Dick Bethune, 79, who served in the U.S. Army from 1961-63.

"Back when I came along, there was a draft and everyone had to go in, in service," Bethune said. "So these guys all were part of that draft. Everybody goes in, rich or poor."

"It's just great to be here with these old guys,” Bethune said. "It's great to hang out with 'em and talk about the military."

Bethune will readily talk about his being a veteran of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The crisis brought the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union close to nuclear war after American intelligence discovered Soviet missiles in Cuba.

At the time, Bethune assembled atomic bombs and was stationed in then-West Germany with a cannon, which only one time was loaded with an atomic weapon.

That one time, he said, was the Cuban Missile Crisis.

He said living through the whole episode of knowing America and the rest of the world was so close to nuclear war was scary.

In reflecting on the Cuban Missile Crisis, he said, "Probably the most important thing is that there's no winner when you're using atomic weapons."

"That's the biggest thing. I mean, there's no winner on either side," he said.

Another veteran who can be found at Post 58 on Thursday mornings is William A. "Bill" Knight, 78.

Knight served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1961-66, with his service including having been in then-South Vietnam from 1964-65. He was a security guard at the U.S. Embassy in what was Saigon.

As for what going to Post 58 does for him, he said, "It's something to do."

"Sitting around home is not my thing. I have to be busy. So, this is part of my busy-ness," he said.

He said he is going to keep going to the post on Thursday mornings "as long as they can have me and I can crawl out of bed."

Post 58 not only is a gathering place for war era veterans.

The post commander, Jim Taylor, said the location is valuable to veterans who are looking for assistance getting signed up for medical benefits, primarily from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Taylor said veterans in need routinely stop by on Thursday mornings and fill out paperwork and noted he sometimes has anywhere from two to three volunteers from the Disabled American Veterans assisting.

Taylor said those veterans are seen on a first-come, first-served basis but said if there is a crowd, the hours will be extended.

One of those hoping to receive help is James McDaniel, 58, who spoke of serving in the U.S. Army from 1979-82 and having been a food service specialist.

McDaniel said he was in then-West Germany and said cooking utensils were put on hangers in the kitchen but one of the pots fell and struck him in his nose. He said he suffers from sinus problems and is on Social Security Disability but times right now have been tough for him financially.

Citing his service to the federal government in seeking assistance, McDaniel said, "One hand deserves another hand."

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