Veterans enjoy camaraderie year-round

November 11, 2004|STEPHEN BURNETT

Jerry Abbott served for two years in Vietnam, and he returned with two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star - and several bullets left in his back.

"You have to get shot up to get 'em," Abbott said with a grin. "I walked into an ambush."

Viet Cong snipers were hidden in the trees. He and others in his unit hit the dirt while the snipers rained fire on them from above.

"I got shot five times in the back and hit with a B-40 rocket in the back," Abbott said.

That was in 1971, he said.

"Can't remember all that way back," he added, smiling. "I just block everything out.

"Been a long time ago."

Saturday rendezvous

Abbott and several others are part of an informal gathering of area veterans who meet once a month at the Masonic Lodge on the corner of North Fourth and Smith streets.


Retired Navy ship's cook Charles Corbett started the group in July 2002 after getting the idea from Doug Huff, a retired Navy captain and navigator.

"He met me one day at the Wal-Mart," Corbett said, "and he asked me, 'Where do you retired people drink coffee?' I said, 'We got a lot of retired people, Doug, but none of us gets together.'"

"I said, 'well, why don't we all get together and have a breakfast, once a month?' So we got together."

At the first meeting, "we had seven people show up," Corbett said.

At their last meeting on Nov. 6, about a dozen were there in the lodge basement, having breakfast and chatting over coffee and orange juice.

"Something funny about veterans," said Bill Galbreath, a former Air Force chief master sergeant. "We're much closer than the normal community in the United States. A lot, lot closer together. We respect each other's comments and views, otherwise we wouldn't be here."

Some were in combat, some were not, but each told his story in the same manner: quietly, unpretentiously - despite whatever battles they had gone through.

War stories

Another man who served in combat was retired senior chief engineman Bill Catron, who fought on a river patrol boat in the rivers and canals of the Mekong Delta.

"My boat was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade and anti-tank rocket. The gunner was wounded - I was in very close combat there," said Catron.

"We had a high casualty rate the first two weeks of the Tet Offensive, when that broke out," Catron said. "They was everywhere. I mean, there's no such thing as a front line, like you think of an army behind you.

"No, it was all over, all over the country," he said. "Wherever you went, you'd be subject to be under fire.

"All we'd do there for a while, we went on full patrol," he continued. "I went five days there once before I shaved or brushed my teeth - all we was doing was come in, re-arm, go right back out. Take on ammunition and fuel, go right back out on patrol for five days straight, just like that, day and night.

"The night sky light was just like the Fourth of July," Catron said. "Everybody lookin' for air support, whatever. You could see flares all over.

"I heard gunfire every day I was there. Every day. If you wasn't in somethin', you was close to it - you would hear it, whether it be friendly fire or enemy, you could hear it."

What was the toughest conflict he could remember?

"The worst was what you was in at that time," Catron said. "You'd go maybe for days and not see anything going on. Then you might be in there for a very few moments of stark raving terror when you're getting fired on from real close range - where you're firing back, tracers all over the place."

After Vietnam, Catron went back to his former job of submarine sailor. Two or three years later, he returned to Vietnam as an advisor for the Vietnamese navy.

"That was in 1971, I think," he said. "I was over there seven months the last time."

After that, Catron said, "the war was winding down, and I came back - left there early, came back. I did a year of recruiting and then retired from the Navy in '73."

Back home

Corbett, a retired chief ship's cook, served in the Navy for 23 years, six months, and eleven days.

He's been to Pearl Harbor, Japan, Hong Kong and even Nome, Alaska.

"It's nice to get out there at sea," Corbett said. "Nobody botherin' you. Just eat, sleep, that's it.

"But I enjoyed it," he said. "We had it a lot better than a lot of people."

After retiring from the Navy in 1975, he and his wife moved to Harrodsburg with their children in 1980. He worked about 10 years for General Electric in Frankfort before leaving because of hip problems.

So what is it like being fully retired now?

"Well, for a while you're lost," Corbett said. "See, I was a cook, and I was the first up in the morning. I got up before the roosters got up.

"And it's still that way," he said. "I still get up early. And it's - it's nice.

"I go to Wal-Mart, talk, shoot the breeze, go out to the Wellness Center, see them people out there," he said. "I keep my mind occupied. I didn't just go home and dry up and stay there.

"Lot of people, you know, get hobbies - fishing, hunting and all that stuff," Corbett said. "But I never did go for that. I was raised in the country I just never did take much to the woods or the rivers.

"I got enough river when I was in the Navy."

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