Veterans Breakfast Club whets appetites for wartime stories

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When Todd DePastino started the Veterans Breakfast Club five years ago, he and co-founder Dan Cavanaugh had one goal in mind - to encourage veterans of all ages to share their stories with the public.

Mr. DePastino, of Mt. Lebanon, is executive director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, which meets several times a month at various places throughout the region to fulfill that goal.

"Most of our storytellers are World War II, Korean War and Vietnam veterans. We're making a big effort this year to reach post-9/11 vets," said Mr. DePastino, who teaches at Penn State Beaver and Waynesburg University.

In addition to the veterans' stories, Mr. DePastino often displays photos and other artifacts at each breakfast.

At breakfast programs presented by the Veterans Breakfast Club, a nonprofit organization, between 50 and 150 people attend, mostly veterans and their families. The club met July 15 for breakfast at Peter's Place in Collier, which was attended by about 100 people.

After a breakfast buffet, the program began with a rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" sung by nearly everyone in the room.

"I've come here ever since it started," said Norman Waldman of Mt. Lebanon, a World War II veteran who served in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division. He attended with his wife, Marie.

Mr. Waldman recalled flying a C-47 plane on D-Day.

"They had given us silk handkerchiefs with maps on them and we were 20 miles from where we should have been," he said. "There was confusion."

Mr. Waldman earned a Purple Heart for his service after a grenade hit him in the hand.

"I saw things you wouldn't believe," he said.

Army veteran Alex Vasselo of Bethel Park, who grew up in McKees Rocks, served in Korea during the conflict there and attends the Veterans Breakfast Club events regularly. He recalled that when he was drafted into the Army, it was very hard on his father.

"I had five brothers in the Second World War," Mr. Vasselo said, adding that he is the youngest of 15 children in his family.

Mr. Vasselo said one of the highlights of being in Korea was seeing Marilyn Monroe, who visited the troops there.

Bernie Queneau, of Mt. Lebanon, also attended the breakfast club event. Mr. Queneau recently celebrated his 102nd birthday. He was a Navy commander during World War II, going on active duty in 1941 when he was 29 years old.

As a young man, Mr. Queneau marched in Franklin D. Roosevelt's inaugural parade.

Joe Zimbicki, an Army veteran, served in World War II, and one of his tasks was to guard Gen. George Patton.

"He was a big show. He was always in a jeep with a couple of guys following him," Mr. Zimbicki said.

During his time in the war, Mr. Zimbicki said, "I got to see quite a bit of the country."

Part of the countryside he saw was that of Utah Beach, Normandy, in June 1944.

Mr. Zimbicki was awarded Purple Hearts for being wounded twice - once by machine-gun fire that hit him in the back of his shoulder while he was digging a fox hole.

"The other time I was nailed in the head with a piece of shrapnel," he said, adding that the shrapnel is still in his head because doctors deemed it too dangerous to remove it at the time.

"It was like a match head," he said of the feeling of being hit.

The meetings of the Veterans Breakfast Club are open to anyone. No admission is charged. Breakfast is available for a fee. The next breakfast in the West suburbs is scheduled for Sept. 3 at Robert Morris University Sewall Center.

For information: www.veteransbreakfastclub.com.

Deana Carpenter, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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