I end up around veterans a lot in my job. One thing that impresses me about many of them is that notion of brotherhood … Folks that can understand something another veteran says because they have lived it themselves.
Obviously even among veterans there is a great deal of differences between what each has experienced. Some saw hand to hand combat or were involved in situations no one should ever have to experience. Others may have served in peace time and, perhaps, never saw a front line or even a command center where battles were designed and implemented.
But each served. Each had a job to do and each job is important to running a military.
I hung out last Friday with a small group of guys who, for more than a decade, have faithfully stood on an Oil City corner waving flags and encouraging motorists to honk their horns to show support for the troops deployed all over the world. I was fascinated by how dedicated they are. Some struggle to remain standing, so they bring chairs to sit, but they always show up. Afterwards, they gather for another hour and B.S., share a snack of what I would call pickled hot bologna, cheese and crackers, and to have a couple toasts with some sort of spirits.
Family, though you’d be hard pressed to find any of them speaking fondly of the others to their face. They enjoy good-natured jabs at each other, usually about the branch of the service they were in.
They invited me to sit and join them for a toast. I said I was working and couldn’t. They told me they wouldn’t tell. I said no thank you but hung out anyway. They must’ve offered me a drink 5 or 6 times in that hour. It would’ve been an honor to throw one back with these men and some Friday, when I finish my shift early enough, I will showed up with a bottle of something and we will toast the troops serving together and I will be toasting them for their service and continued dedication.
Below is the story I wrote for them.
Honk! A car horn blows, then another and another.
Howard Snyder, 70, of Oil City, says “there you go, thank you!’ as he gives the thumbs up to the cars passing by.
“As long as we have troops out there fighting, we will be here!” Snyder says as he stands on the corner of Petroleum and East Front Streets in front of a series of memorials honoring locals who have served and died in foreign wars.
Next to Snyder is a sign that reads “Honk to Support the Troops.”
Ernest “Buck” Butryn points to the memorial behind him. “I knew Carl real well,” he said, speaking about Carl Curran who was killed on May, 17, 2004, along with Mark Kasecky in Iraq. Their names are etched on an Operation Iraqi Freedom memorial stone on the corner. Butryn was a mess sergeant at the local National Guard when the unit was called to go to Iraq in 2003.
Butryn wasn’t called to join the guys in his unit.
“I was told I was too [sic] old and I had had a heart attack.” Butryn, who was 61 at the time, said that really bothered him. He had been with those guys and wanted to go. “I walked out of there (his superior’s office) with tears in my eyes.”
Snyder and Butryn are the two longest running flag wavers of the group that includes veterans from all branches of the service.
Juan Gonzales, 67, a former Navy man, says, “You see those guys over in Iraq and Afghanistan, they are there for us.”
Gonzales joined the group after a casual conversation years ago with Snyder who invited him to come down on a Friday. He’s been coming ever since.
These old soldiers say standing out there isn’t as easy at it once was. At 66, Vietnam Veteran Joseph Deal was the youngest of the four on the corner last Friday in a light, but cold rain.
“I can’t stand the whole time anymore,” he said sitting in a lawn chair while waving a flag that reads “All gave some, Some gave all.”
There are other regulars, including John Beach and Rich Bernard, who join them. Andy St. George, Tom Moore and Tony Davis stop by too to offer support and wave to the cars passing by.
They say anyone is welcome to join them and sometimes they get surprised with random people stopping to join them for a few minutes or even the hour. Snyder said it’s hard for younger people who are working, noting the core group are all retired.
“Once in awhile, we hijack someone walking by,” Snyder said. “You don’t need to join anything, there are no rules, just show support for the troops.”
The guys standing there, rain or shine, welcome anyone to join them or, if they can’t, a simple honk of the horn will suffice.