Veterans traded stories of service during four wars. The memories flowed.
There was just one small difference between this luncheon and almost all other gatherings at the American Legion Hall. All of the former GIs were women.
It was Ladies Day at the Legion on Saturday. The only men around were the kitchen crew and they were kept behind closed doors. The menu was pure GI mess hall, beef stroganoff. One of the cooks noted that soldiers once called it by a less delicate name.
For those eating lunch, the stories came from faded news clippings, pictures and beloved mementoes.
Livea Johnston remembered being a trucker by day and a magician's assistant by night. The 86-year-old World War II veteran from Waterford said both were Army jobs. As a magician's assistant, she helped entertain the troops.
Every night, she would be sawed in half and catch a bullet with a deck of cards. A newspaper clipping from her album pictures her in the box; another picture shows her holding a deck of cards on top of her head behind a plate of glass.
"They would shoot and break the glass and I'd retrieve the bullet from my deck of cards."
Johnston said a general nixed the magician's plans to cut her in half with a machine gun. Though she was in only half of the box, the general was afraid the gun would buck and she would be shot.
Some 'youngsters' attend
She was thrilled with the unique day and said she never had seen so many female veterans in one place. But, she noted, "A lot of them are looking really young."
Kelli Davila, 37, was one of the youngest to attend. She served in Operation Desert Storm during her years in the service from 1989-94. She said she lost a lot of friends from boot camp when an Iraqi SCUD missile hit a base camp in Saudi Arabia.
One of Davila's favorite recollections is how she joined the military.
"My grades started to slip in my junior year," she said. "When I came home one day in February, my senior year, my grandmother was there waiting for me. There were four military recruiters in the room and Grandma said, 'Pick one.' "
Davila said her grandmother's reason was they couldn't afford college for her. In retrospect, Davila said it was the right thing to do. "I loved boot camp. It taught me discipline and to stay focused. It was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Davila said she would rejoin now, but now is the time her children need her most.
Christine Tacke, 57, served during, but not in, Vietnam. She started as a dental assistant and later became a military training instructor, the Air Force version of a drill instructor.
"I never had the voice to be vocally intimidating," she recalled. "But I could reduce a whole flight (training group) to tears with one look."
One of her son's Sunday school teachers once admonished her to stop yelling at her children so much because "they think you're a drill instructor."
That's exactly what Tacke was at the time, and she said her son was proud of her.
Today, she is proud of son Michael, who is in training for the Special Forces and has served two tours in Iraq.
Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2311.