HAMMOND — Local veterans gathered at the Michael J. Kenney Recreation Center on Thursday for fellowship, and to share stories of their time in the service.
“I want veterans to be recognized, and we weren’t,” Hammond resident Sal LaMonte, 79, said as his reason for joining the festivities.
“It’s a bad thing,” LaMonte said. “So much of the younger generation doesn’t care about the elderly and the veterans.”
LaMonte is on a mission to change that, he said.
“I want to recognize the Korean War veterans because we’re damned important,” LaMonte said as tears welled up in his eyes.
LaMonte was a member of the Red Devils, the name given to his battalion, he said.
LaMonte, who made his way through the room talking to other veterans, most of whom are his friends, said he had a role in helping the 1st Marine Division and the 7th Division during their fighting withdrawal from the Chosin Reservoir in midwinter 1950.
The gathering happens once a month at the Michael J. Kenney Center, said Linda Irwin, senior activities coordinator for the city of Hammond.
“I personally wanted to honor our veterans so I thought about a breakfast — for fellowship, to share their stories, and to keep them alive,” Irwin said.
“Veterans look forward to coming,” Irwin said.
Veterans such as Dr. Paul Vega, a physician who worked in Hammond for many years, and for whom a street by North Oaks Medical Center is named.
A World War II veteran who was in the U.S. Army Air Forces, Vega spent 18 years in the military, he said.
“I come every month,” Vega said about the breakfast, adding when asked why he comes, said, “Why not?”
“I talk to my friends,” Vega said.
Helen Rownd, 90, of Hammond, was a member of the Army Air Forces. Rownd, a pilot who was a radio operator from 1943 to 1949, also attended Thursday’s gathering.
Rownd was a member of the Women’s Air Service Pilots, or WASP, as they are often referred, and flew planes when the men went into battle, she said.
“I’ve been coming pretty regularly,” Rownd said of the veteran’s breakfasts. “I have to get out and keep moving”
“She was a good pilot,” said Basil Sweatt, of Hammond.
The 88-year-old said he too comes regularly to the monthly event.
“I like to continue to support the military,” Sweatt said. “I have a lot of concerns about what’s happening in this country. I’d like to do what we can to keep it strong.”
In addition to breakfast, the Hammond Recreation Area Line Dancers perform at the gatherings, and a guest speaker talks about the latest updates on benefits for veterans.
For more information about the veterans breakfast, including upcoming dates and times, call Irwin at (985) 277-5906.