In a weekday gathering of veterans, known as Shelburne Airport’s Coffee Klatch, thoughts on Veterans Day were shared last week. The group celebrates more than two decades of camaraderie.
“It’s a brotherhood,” Bob Paradis, 77, of Colchester said. He was at the airport having coffee with the gang on Oct. 30. Sometimes up to 14 veterans show up, he said. Paradis served in the US Airforce and Vermont National Guard from 1958 to 1981.
Paradis said Veterans Day was originally the official end of World War I. Fighting ceased when an armistice, or ceasefire, occurred on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. It was to be the war to end all wars and that day was called Armistice Day, he said.
Armistice Day has evolved into Veterans Day, Paradis said. “It’s about the people who served and went to war. You take a minute and reflect on that. To have respect and think about the comradeship and being together. It’s like going back to a high school reunion and remembering a time in your life.”
Staff Sargent Tyler Hart, 70, of South Burlington served as an ejection seat mechanic in the US Airforce for 8 years in the Vietnam War. He meets up with a group of Veterans for coffee most weekdays at the Shelburne Airport. “Veterans Day is a day to be proud and to reflect on everyone who has served,” Hart said.
Coffee klatcher Ray Cooley, 84, of South Burlington served in Germany as an Army corporal from 1948 to 1951. “It’s a pleasure to see it celebrated again,” Cooley said of Veterans Day. “After Vietnam, soldiers were spit on and disrespected. It has changed so much for the good.”
Helicopter pilot Ed Scott of Richmond agreed. He served in the Vietnam War as a chief warrant officer. He’s relieved that Veterans Day is celebrated the way it is today. Scott was harassed for years after he returned from overseas. “I might as well have been a leper,” Scott said. “It destroyed my confidence for quite a while.”
Tyler Hart was spit on when he returned home from war. He said he wasn’t about to let it get him down. “I knew who I was,” he said. “I was proud of myself. It was an obligation at the time.”
Hart and Scott were not sentimental about their uniforms or decorations. Neither soldier saved anything from their time in the service. “Responsibility makes a man out of an 18-year-old quickly. The military did that,” Hart said.
Having other veterans as friends has helped through the years. There is a bond among veterans, Scott said. “Even though I might not respect their political opinions, there is still a bond there. It’s an automatic understanding of each other. I do wish there were more ways to express appreciation of veterans.”
Paradis said the group holds within it a wealth of valuable knowledge. They all chose different career paths and are able to help each other out in a lot of different ways, he said.
Dave Winrock, 73, of Burlington has been a part of the coffee club since the 1990s. He is not a veteran, but he shares the club’s love for aviation. He’s a private pilot who stores two planes at Shelburne Airport. “These are a group of great guys and good citizens,” Winrock said. “They are concerned about this country. We have heated political discussions.”
When Winrock thinks of veterans, he thinks of the young men who have died in the line of duty. “I knew many who died in Vietnam and I think of them,” he said. “It’s just an endless stream of kids getting killed, really. I think of the lives they didn’t lead, and what they missed out on. But you are supposed to think about the veterans that are alive, I guess. Those are the lucky ones.”
Winrock was married with two children and was classified as 4F which meant he was not qualified to enter the military. “I actually wanted to go, but I was glad I didn’t as time passed.”
Chuck Robitaille, 90, of Shelburne served as a private in the infantry from 1946 to 1948. He said while smiling, “Veterans Day is about going down to Battery Park with all of the other old poops and hoisting the flag.”
Eight coffee klatch members have died since its inception. “The worst part of getting old is losing your friends,” Robitaille said. “This group here is the best treasure this community has.”