In honor of Veteran’s Day this month, I’ve decided to write a series of posts about some amazing people I’ve met in my new town in Central Oregon. They call themselves “A Band of Brothers” although women have joined the organization, too. In 2006, a few World War II Veterans started meeting weekly in Bend, Oregon, and almost ten years later, the group has grown into the hundreds. U.S. Veterans include those who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, the Falkland Islands, Germany in peace time (that seems like a long time ago, doesn’t it?), and various conflicts in the Middle East. A few years ago, retired First Responders, our “domestic protectors,” joined the organization as well.
The Band of Brothers’ mission statement: “To provide veterans and current members of the military with the opportunity to share friendship, camaraderie and assistance.”
Who knew that WWII Veteran, Phil Bellefeuille’s idea to get a few buddies together for coffee in the fall of 2006 would give support to so many? The original group of nine veterans who met at the Elks Club had such a great time swapping stories, they coined themselves the “Old Pharts: A Band of Brothers” and started meeting weekly at various local restaurants. The Bend Bulletin heard about those guys and published an article that included an invitation from Phil for any veteran to attend.
New brother and sister veterans showed up each week. The group quickly outgrew descending upon random restaurants, so Vietnam War Veteran, Lyle Hicks, stepped up to solve the problem. Hicks owns Jake’s Diner and offered to reserve the back room in his restaurant for meetings, including a reasonably priced breakfast buffet to accommodate everyone.
By 2008, they had dedicated an American flag to the Bend Heroes Memorial and dropped the “Old Pharts” moniker to become the “Bend Band of Brothers”. The organization was granted non-profit status in 2011.
When welcoming back a veteran who has been fighting cancer, Secretary, Treasurer Ray Hartzell quips:
“We’re so glad to have you back, Lanny…even if he is army.”
The diner bursts into laughter and good-natured ribbing until Hartzell blows a whistle, calling the room back to order.
The harmless flirtation from some of these guys has been a crack up, not to mention good for my ego. Others are complete gentlemen, such as 95-year-old Bob Maxwell, the oldest living recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor; Vietnam Veteran Richard Fleming, diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 1966 but wasn’t told until 2013; Captain Bill Collier who wrote his memoir, The Adventures of a Helicopter Pilot: Flying the H-34 Helicopter in Vietnam for the United States Marine Corps, and many more. (Stay tuned for posts of veterans’ incredible personal stories.)
As members have moved away and people from other towns have visited, new Band of Brothers chapters have emerged, first throughout Central Oregon and then in other states, such as Idaho and Washington. Veterans’ family members have also joined as they, too, find friendship and comfort in becoming acquainted with others who have lived through similar experiences.
Besides providing emotional support and companionship, the Band of Brothers chapters raise funds to help veterans in need, provide veteran funerals with the “Flag Line Honor Guard”, donate to projects such as Honor Flight, contribute to Central Oregon Veterans Outreach and other veterans’ organizations. Though founder Phil Bellefeuille passed away in March, 2011, he left a legacy for which many are grateful.
I hope you will join me for individual Band of Brothers members’ amazing stories in the posts to follow in the coming weeks.