BRANDON – Fifteen military veterans were treated to a luncheon Nov. 6 at the Brandon Kmart during Sears Holdings Corp.’s inaugural Invite a Veteran to Work Day.
Tim Burton, manager of the Brandon Kmart and a Marine veteran who saw two tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, was glad to show his support and appreciation for his fellow service members. He enlisted the help of Valrico resident Mary Zolna, vice chair/assistant secretary of USO Tampa Bay, to locate and invite veterans to the meal.
Twenty-six store employees lined the banquet room and applauded as the veterans entered.
Attendees introduced themselves with branch of service and/or conflict: Ken Zolna, Marine Corps; Marty Sullivan, Navy, Korea; Michael Lautermilch, first Gulf War; Gerard Abbett, Vietnam; Mike Barron, Marine Corps, first Gulf War; Charlene Griffin, Army; Bessie Mohead, Naval Reserves and Army; her husband, Arthur Mohead, Navy; Tom Vivarito, Army; Ainie (Smitty) Smith, Air Force; Lavenia Howse, Air Force, Desert Storm; Kmart employees Chris Greene, Army National Guard; Valerie Nowlin, Navy, Vietnam; and Jeff Dickson, Navy, Iraqi Freedom.
“The military was good to me,” said Bessie Mohead, who now serves as pastor of Hood Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Tampa. “It provided my education, helped me get my nursing degree.”
As war stories started flying, Lautermilch said, “No matter how long ago, it still seems like yesterday.”
Abbett described being sent to the morgue in Vietnam to identify a buddy.
With bodies of their fallen soldiers lying side by side in the room, the guys in the morgue made jokes, saying things like, “We’re expecting 3,500 casualties today. We’ll probably see you later.”
Nowlin said, “That happened a lot, I think, because some people lack coping skills and used that dark humor to keep them going, keep them from getting real emotional. But it doesn’t make it any easier for someone who has to ID a friend.”
Greene said he is training for a 2014 deployment.
Heads nodded solemnly, as Nowlin said, “I hope you don’t have to go, but if you do, do whatever you have to to survive. Come back home.”
Barbara Routen, [email protected]