Lifestyle

Heroes feted at Mercer Island celebration

They gathered together to swap war stories, enjoy dollar beers and have a hearty buffet dinner. In what may have been the biggest Veterans Day party yet on Mercer Island, most importantly it was a time to say thank you to the heroes who have guaranteed our freedom over the years.

On Thursday evening, when the official toast was raised to the veterans, the Roanoke Inn was elbow-to-elbow with veterans and those who came to celebrate them. Harry Wiant served in the Korean War as a medic. He was a volunteer in Project Whitecoat, a little-known series of experiments on germ warfare conducted at Camp Detrick outside of Frederick, Md. He was exposed to Q Fever, or Coxiella burnetii — a bacterium — but thankfully he has not had any ill effects due to the exposure.

The “Eleven Elevens,” a local group of Vietnam veterans who have been getting together for the past 25 years, were well represented. Some of them served together, but many of them just met through the group.

“The concept was to get together on Veterans Day to experience the camaraderie and swap war stories,” said Gary Bullington, who was a U.S. Naval officer in Vietnam.

Whether they had known each other forever, or just met — it didn’t matter.

“It’s great to be back with guys who all served at the same time,” said John Engvall, who served in the Marines in Vietnam. “It’s like a brotherhood.”

His friend, Bill Cote, who served in the Navy in Vietnam, sort of put things in perspective.

He observed how people today have so many problems.

“Flying through the pouring rain, getting shot at — that’s a problem,” Cote said.

Dorothy Reeck, the owner of the historical Roanoke Inn, said she always thought that our veterans should be properly thanked. The idea was born to host a party in their honor in tandem with the celebration at the VFW post across the street. Reeck threw in $1,000 of her own money, which was matched by Ruth and Bill Vance, also of Mercer Island. Food Services of America allowed Reeck to buy food at cost for the event along with donating a chef for the day. An envelope hanging on the wall in Reeck’s office simply said “for veterans,” from Laura Johnson. It contained $20 for beer.

“We have so many freedoms,” Reeck said.

This was the first time that Reeck has thrown this party. She doesn’t drink beer, but she knew veterans would appreciate the $1 beer that she offered all day. Reeck said the seed was planted when an older gentleman had come in for a beer one day, reminiscing about buying a beer for less than a dollar.

Thanks to all our service men and women.

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