Restaurant becomes monthly chow hall for veterans
If you've fought in America's wars and you'd like to have lunch with those who've done the same, the Peak Grill has a monthly get-together you might like to try.
Every second Tuesday, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., the restaurant owned by Randy and Nancy Bolen, at 4423 Centennial Blvd. in the West Wind Shopping Center, sets aside space and time for veterans. They get half-off on their meals, with shared conversation and patriotism at no extra charge.
“We're focusing on the older guys [World War II and Korea] while they're still around,” Randy Bolen said. “But really, it's whoever wants to show, veteran-wise. The more the merrier.”
The gatherings started last December, the brainstorm of the Bolens in conjunction with Jane Rodgers, wife of a Vietnam veteran and head photographer for the Pikes Peak or Bust Rodeo. The first one was last Dec. 7, offering free meals to vets to commemorate the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that spurred the United States to enter World War II. Despite wintry weather, close to 75 people came, according to Rodgers.
“I've always been kind of a World War II buff,” Randy Bolen said, but it was Nancy who recently got him to watch the History Channel's “World War II” documentary. “It really grabbed her,” he said.
Rodgers' inspiration is a love of what American soldiers have done to defend the country. She thinks it's important that their stories be heard because so many of them, especially those from World II and Korea “are leaving us so fast,” she said.
For the next Peak Grill lunch, Tuesday, April 13, Rodgers has once again been phoning veterans she knows and otherwise passing the word. A World War II vet she's been trying to find is Roger Montoya, who survived the Bataan Death march. If you know his whereabouts, call her at 638-1770.
A newcomer who's expected this time is Tony Lopez, a World War II paratrooper who parachuted onto Corregidor Island on Feb. 16, 1945, during the battle for the Philippines.
Overall, Rodgers said of April 13, “Sounds like it's going to be packed and we are in for some great stories.”
For people who would like to come but don't know anyone, Rodgers as well as World War II veteran Jesse Boyd - a regular luncheon attendee - act as unofficial hosts. “Some veterans sit while others stand,” Rodgers said of the scene. “I usually have each one talk so that way we can hear from all of them… They tell their personal stories, some laugh and some are sad, but I keep it going, with a few hugs here and there. They eat, talk, laugh and have a good time.”
Boyd, 85, a retired Air Force chief who fought on the Japanese front with the Army in World War II, wears his full WWII uniform at the luncheons and provides information as the veterans arrive. He also brings a sign that says “Greatest Generation.” “When people come in, they may be strangers,” he said, “but when they leave, they're not.”
During recent interviews, Boyd as well as area WWII vets Harry Runtzel and Harvey Visnaw (who also attend the Peak Grill lunches) talked a bit about their war experiences.
Boyd enlisted in 1942, the same year he graduated from high school. He was part of the U.S. invasions of New Guinea and of Luzon. Although he's seen the horrors of combat, he also remembers bizarre events, such as when he and his unit were advancing to the beach, under fire, in Luzon when some teenagers from the nearby city of Manila strolled up to ask them for cigarettes. Another time he remembers huddling in a shell hole while Japanese artillery rained down and a 2-star division commander walked up out of nowhere, remarking on the disagreeability of the situation.
Boyd kept a scrapbook of his years in the war. “When I'm gone, at least I'll have a history,” he said.
He's used to talking in front of people. In addition to the Peak Grill luncheons, he addresses classes at schools and is helping organize an August golf tournament to raise money for military families. “I do this because I need to stay active,” said Boyd, who will be 86 in June.
In World War II, Visnaw was on a ship that was hit by Japanese torpedoes that killed 14 men. “I didn't know what happened until I saw bloody bodies being carried off,” he recalled. “Two of them were my best buddies.”
He made a career of the Navy, working as a cook and also with a Seabees construction program that did community outreach. He liked seeing the world and didn't mind the hard work (still doesn't at age 85), but could have done without some of the discipline. On a ship during World War II, he was assigned three decks down and asked for a transfer. An officer asked him if he didn't like the ship. Hearing an affirmative answer, the officer replied, “We're going to keep you here until you do.”
Visnaw enjoys the Peak Grill lunches. “There aren't many places like it,” he said. “They [Randy and Nancy] are fabulous people and patriotic as they can be. I tell everybody about it.”
A member of the 6th Army's 55th field artillery at the age of 18, Runtzel helped fire the “long toms” that weighed 18 tons and could fire a shell up to 22 miles. Each projectile weighed 100 pounds each. Moving their equipment around was “hard work, but I'll take it over the infantry,” he said, even though “we got strafed and bombed a lot.”
A memory that lingers was the liberation of Manila in the Phillipines, where the Japanese retreated to an inner city with ancient walls 40 feet deep. “We went in with the long toms and fired at the walls point blank to open them up,” he recalled. Another time, he and a small group got cut off. Fighting their way back, Runtzel was hit by shrapnel. He still has pieces in a hand and knee, but says they don't bother him.
At the start of the fighting, Runtzel's outfit had 250 men. Afterward, “158 came back, and half were crippled,” he said. “I was one of the fortunate ones.” This month, Runtzel will turn 85. “There are only four of us alive anymore,” he said.
Unlike Boyd and Visnaw, Runtzel left the military after the war and did not go back. He worked in the wholesale drug business for 30 years.
As for the Peak Grill events, Runtzel usually comes with Dr. Glenn Williams, a veteran of the same era whom he met four years ago. Glenn is suffering from leukemia and may not make it this time, but otherwise “It's just good for Glenn and me to have lunch together and meet the other guys,” Runtzel said. “They saw what you saw and went through the same things. War is horrible but necessary because there are so many evil people in the world.”
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