Published 12:00 am Friday, November 11, 2011

By Sarah Campbell
SPENCER — The lunch club at Calvary Lutheran Church meets every weekday for food and fellowship. It’s typically a happy time, but the tone was a bit different Thursday.
The group members, locals age 62 and older, spent their meeting time paying tribute to veterans.
Memorabilia ranging from uniforms to prayer books to medals filled a long rectangular table in the middle of the room. Before lunch, many gathered to get a glimpse at a past that’s vividly imprinted in their minds.
Veterans from the five branches of the military make up about half the membership of the lunch club. One of them, Bill Foley, said: “There are hundreds of stories on that table. It brings back memories, good and bad.”
Veteran Walter Hawkins said he was “awestruck” by the amount of items the group managed to bring in for the display. He originally hoped to get enough pieces to cover a poster board, but it didn’t take long for the entire table to fill up.
“I was just overwhelmed with the response,” he said. “There is a lot of history on that table.”
The history Hawkins referred to includes a letter Kathleen Little’s family received after her older brother, Mac Little Jr., was killed in France on Aug. 1, 1944. He was 20.
Mac had just written Kathleen a letter via V-mail, also known as Victory Mail, five days before his death. V-mail, a method in which a letter was copied to film and then printed onto paper after arriving at its destination, was used during World War II.
Kathleen said she tries not to think about it much anymore; it’s just too painful. But she cherishes that final correspondence.
Jeff Walker, a Navy veteran, said some of the things he’s seen and heard about since his time in the service have been “horrifying.”
That’s why, he said, it’s important to honor those who served on Veterans Day.
“They deserve our best,” he said. “It means so much to know that we have our armed forces fighting for the liberty and freedom that we have.”
Hawkins still vividly remembers the most horrifying thing he experienced while serving during World War II: a Nazi concentration camp in Germany.
“It was the worst thing I ever saw,” he said.
As a member of the Army, Hawkins said he’s proud to have been part of the armed services that ended Adolf Hitler’s reign.
“We did not come as conquerers, we came as liberators,” he said. “We tried to give peace and understanding.”
Raymond Austin also served in Europe during World War II.
He said today is a time of reflection, as is every Veterans Day.
“I think a lot on that day,” he said. “I always like to keep that day for myself.”
The lunch club is taking off today in honor of Veterans Day. And Hawkins said he hopes people will take time out to do the same.
“If you see a veteran sitting near you, reach over and thank him and give him a big, big handshake,” he said.
Contact reporter Sarah Campbell at 704-797-7683.