Veterans Build Friendships Through Monthly Breakfast Meetings

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It started about 18 months ago as a spur-of-the-moment breakfast outing for a few friends and the swapping of a few war stories, and has evolved into a monthly affair featuring dozens of local veterans.Once a month, veterans from throughout Southampton Town gather for a shared breakfast in Hampton Bays, either at The Hampton Maid in spring and summer, or the Hampton Bays Diner in the fall and winter. Each orders whatever they want and all split the bill—unless, of course, the restaurant owner or another community member picks up the tab, which has already happened on multiple occasions.

It is during these communal meals that the veterans share stories and build a sense of community within their dwindling peer group. They most recently met on Wednesday morning at The Hampton Maid on Montauk Highway to catch up with each other, share stories and enjoy a meal with about 20 veterans in attendance.

The men, most of whom live in Hampton Bays, shared old stories and caught up on recent events of each other’s lives, with discussions focusing on family, health and even classic cars.

Jack Capone, an 89-year-old World War II veteran, got the idea to start the group after going out to breakfast with three of his friends last year. After spreading the word around the local veteran community, the group now boasts a contact list of about 45 members, according to Mr. Capone.

“I’d like to see it get larger,” he said. “It’s nice to talk to all these veterans because, more or less, we’ve all been through the same experiences. For the World War II fellas, especially, there aren’t too many of us left.”

The group includes veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, and although not everyone can attend every breakfast, usually between 15 and 25 veterans show up each month, Mr. Capone said. He also said he does not want other veterans to feel slighted because they have not received an invite, explaining that the invites are informal and they are welcome to join in at any time.

A Bronx native, Mr. Capone said he has lived in Hampton Bays since he was 2. Before being drafted Mr. Capone worked as a carpenter, something that helped him get placed in the Army Corps of Engineers, keeping him off the front lines during World War II.

During his time in the service Mr. Capone said he was stationed in several places in Europe, including Austria and France. He was even stationed at then-General Dwight Eisenhower’s headquarters.

Pete Penny, 88, a lifelong resident of Hampton Bays, took over operation of the group earlier this year when Mr. Capone had to relinquish his leadership role because of health issues. Mr. Penny stressed how informal the breakfast meetings are and is encouraging other veterans who are interested in getting involved to simply show up and join in.

“There’s nothing official about it,” he said. “There’s no score kept, no secretaries or anything. We just get together and talk.”

Last week marked the 68th anniversary of the twin atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, effectively bringing World War II to an end, a momentous occasion for many group members, including Mr. Penny, who was in Shanghai when he got the news.

“I was very excited. I just enjoyed it so much and I couldn’t help but think about all the people back home,” Mr. Penny said recalling the day the war ended. “I thought, ‘Now they’re free, no need to be concerned about war for a while.’”

Mr. Penny’s nephew Leigh Penny, a 66-year-old Vietnam veteran, was at Wednesday’s breakfast meeting with friend and fellow Hampton Bays firefighter Brian Connolly, 62, another Vietnam-era veteran. The younger Mr. Penny served from 1966 to 1969 in the U.S. Navy Construction Battalion, or “The Seabees,” spending 13 months doing electrical engineering in Vietnam and four months doing the same in Antarctica.

He said the group is a rewarding experience both in terms of creating camaraderie with fellow veterans and enjoying the wealth of knowledge the older members bring to the table.

“Everyone lives in Hampton Bays and a lot of them grew up here, so we talk a lot about how things used to be,” Mr. Penny said. “It’s really interesting.”

Mike Zarro, 87, also of Hampton Bays, served in the 30th Army infantry division during the final two years of War World II. He was one of the original members of the group who attended breakfast with Mr. Capone that first morning.

“It’s kind of nice to have something like that to meet and talk to each other,” he said. “To me it’s just like a bunch of old ladies sitting around gossiping,” he added with a chuckle.

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