By Galen Patterson
The vets meet on the first Wednesday of every month at Coco’s in Arcadia.
The group started three years ago, when Temple City was requesting World War II veterans for a parade. After the parade, “we thought we should get together more often,” says Art Del Rey, one of the founding members.
Recently, the group began extending invitations to veterans of other wars. “I’m not a World War II vet, I’m a Vietnam-era guy, and for some reason they let me be a guest there,” says Jim McKellar, a former medic. The veterans from World War II distinguish themselves by wearing baseball caps with the words World War II embroidered across the front, and the major battles in which they participated on the side, so that each hat is customized to reflect the experiences of the vets.
Until recently, the group had a female member. McKellar recalls his first outing with the vets, when he met the group’s original female member, Shirley. “She was tough,” said McKellar, and fit in well with the group. “She was with us for quite a while, but we have another one,” says Del Rey, referring to the group’s new female member.
Shirley is a recent loss from the group, but her passing reflects the reality the group faces and one of the reasons their get together matters. We’ve lost a lot of our guys, we’re all in our 90’s,” says Del Rey referring to the older vets. “When I started a year and a half ago there was maybe 23 or 24 guys and one gal. Now it has dwindled down to maybe 16 or 17,” says McKellar. The oldest member of the group, according to Del Rey is 96 and makes it to all the meetings, Del Rey himself is 94.
Del Rey was part of a PBY squadron, a sort of flying boat, primarily tasked with rescuing downed crew members in the ocean and bombing. He recounts a memory of his plane rescuing a crew member from a different plane, who had been surviving, lost at sea in a raft and had no idea where the rest of his crew was. “Some of those guys didn’t know if they would ever be found,” he said.
“The guys are really nice and really friendly,” said McKellar. From time to time, the group will host guest speakers. “They have been sensational,” said McKellar. One of the guest speakers was Jimmy Doolittle’s granddaughter, the commanding officer and mastermind of the now-famous “Doolittle Raid,” in which U.S. bombers attacked the Japanese mainland for the first time.
The vets plan to meet once again before Veteran’s Day, in the first week of November.