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Decades later, WWII veterans still deserve our thanks

High Point Enterprise - 5/8/2017

May 07--HIGH POINT -- When they first began meeting, they called themselves "The 80s Club," because they were all about 80 years old.

Today, they could call themselves "The 90s Club," because -- well, you can figure out why.

Once a week for at least the past decade or so, a group of World War II veterans has been gathering at local restaurants -- the Pioneer, or the Rainbow, or Carter Brothers, for example -- and swapping war stories.

"We've let a few spring chickens join the group along the way, too," says Dallas Chapman, of High Point, who served in the Navy during World War II.

One of those spring chickens is Ed Bradshaw, who's not really a spring chicken at 78, but he is compared to the likes of Chapman and Lee Briles, who at 91 are the group's two elder statesmen.

"I just kind of invited myself and made my way into the group," says Bradshaw, who met the others in the group through his church, Covenant Church United Methodist.

He chuckles at his own audacity, but his intentions were genuine.

"I had started getting to know them," Bradshaw says, "and I realized, 'You know, these guys ain't gonna be around that much longer,' and I just wanted to be involved with them. And I wanted to be there for them, in case they need some help."

One Tuesday evening not too long ago, at Bradshaw's invitation, I spent an hour or so with Chapman and Briles as they dined at Carter Brothers, experiencing for myself one of their weekly bull sessions. I was not disappointed.

Chapman was the more outgoing of the two men, quick with a smile or a joke. He's that way at church, too, where his habit of handing out sticks of Juicy Fruit to the kids has made him a Pied Piper of sorts.

Briles, on the other hand, is more of a storyteller. Briles, who is also from High Point, shared one story after another about his service in the Army during the war: The day he dug a trench to sleep in and it filled up with water. The night he captured two Germans while pulling guard duty. The time he nearly lost his mortar tube as it started to slide down a muddy embankment. The rivers he crossed, the weapons he fired, the comrades he lost.

And the bomb he would've sworn was going to kill him.

"This plane dropped a bomb, and that bomb looked exactly like it was coming right straight at me," Briles recalls, suppressing a grin. "And no matter which way I moved, that bomb was still coming straight at me. When it landed, it had to be as far from me as the Ford place up yonder."

For the record, "the Ford place up yonder" was Crescent Ford, at least a quarter-mile from Carter Brothers.

Briles unleashes a sheepish grin.

"I just knew it was gonna hit me, and it wasn't anywhere close to me," he says, and we all have a good laugh at his expense.

As the stories continue, a young waitress -- young enough to be Briles and Chapman's great-granddaughter -- comes and goes every so often, bringing their food, refilling their drinks and generally fawning over them the way a good waitress will do. And when she told them they were eligible for a free dessert -- peach cobbler or banana pudding -- Chapman opted for the peach cobbler, but Briles announced he'd rather have a slice of cake.

The young waitress, who hadn't offered cake, didn't even flinch.

"A piece of cake?" she said. "Sure. What kind of cake?"

"Red velvet," Briles replied.

In a matter of moments, she returned with dessert -- peach cobbler for Chapman, red velvet cake for Briles -- and both seemed duly satisfied.

I was impressed with the waitress, but I couldn't help but wonder how much she knew about these two men. They'd eaten here before, so maybe she had waited on them, but had she overheard any of their stories? Had she heard about the bomb Briles thought was going to hit him? Had she heard about the kamikaze Chapman saw in the Pacific? Did she even know these two men were World War II veterans?

I like to think she did.

Regardless, it reminded me of Ed Bradshaw's comment about veterans: "These guys ain't gonna be around that much longer, and I just wanted to be involved with them. And I wanted to be there for them, in case they need some help."

After all, they were there for us -- for all of us -- 75 years ago. I say give 'em all the red velvet cake they want.

jtomlin@hpenews.com -- 336-888-3579

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(c)2017 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.)

Visit The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.) at www.hpenews.com

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