Inspired by a bus trip full of World War II veterans, the idea for the Veterans Breakfast Club started in 2007 when bus captain and historian Dan Cavanaugh asked the participants if they wanted to share any stories. Some of them, wearing their uniform hats and medals, opened up and soon more began to feel comfortable talking about that oft forgotten part of their lives.
After the trip was over, many calls were received from those looking to recreate the storytelling experience again. So, in April 2008, a small group of veterans and their spouses met for breakfast and the idea took off. There are now more than 300 members in the South Hills Chapter alone and other groups meet in Penn Hills, North Hills, and the Moon/Airport area. Last year, 850 people from all over Pittsburgh attended events of the Veterans Breakfast Club.
Upcoming events for the South Hills Veterans Breakfast Club include:
July 26 – South Hills Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza hotel on Ft. Couch Road featuring speaker John Haigh, who served as an Air Force Master Sergeant on Air Force One. 8:30 am.
August 20 – Day trip to D-Day Conneaut - 7:30 am to 8:00 pm.
August 30 – South Hills Breakfast at the Crowne Plaza - 8:30 am.
September 27-29 – Three-day trip to National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA
Co-founder Todd DePastino got involved when he was asked to speak about his book on Bill Mauldin, the combat cartoonist who created the famous characters Willie and Joe.
“It started as me talking to them and turned into them talking to me,” said DePastino.
The Veterans Breakfast Club may be a substitute for the WWII veterans who can no longer travel to their division reunions. From air bombers to ground infantry, radio operators, medics and shipmen, the club includes veterans who served in all branches of the armed forces and many non-veterans and spouses show up just to hear the stories.
“These people served in so many different capacities. The variety of experience we get at each breakfast is amazing,” DePastino said. “We’re starting to see more Cold War, Vietnam, and Korean War Veterans as well.”
Even with hundreds of members, Todd and Dan know all their names and feature the pictures and stories of different veterans at each meeting, such as George Freas, a WWII Navy lieutenant on LST 941.
“A friend told me about this over a year ago so I just walked in. I have been coming ever since,” said Freas, 88, of Mt. Lebanon. “I try to sit at a different table every time to get a chance to meet more people.”
In addition to the great stories, the club has fostered many long term friendships and several coincidences where people who served in the same units or on the same ships met for the first time. The group has expanded to include trips such as the D-Day Re-Enactment at Conneaut, National WWII Museum in New Orleans, and Eldred World War II Museum.
Membership in the Club is free and you don’t have to be a veteran. Breakfasts are $10 for the full meal, or $6 for coffee and danish. The club is awaiting their official non-profit status and offers assistance to those that can’t afford the cost of breakfast through the Veterans Breakfast Fund.
Check their website at www.veteransbreakfastclub.com or call 412-623-9029 for details.