TROY — The first Wednesday morning of each month is a lively one at the Miami Valley Veterans’ Museum. There, veterans take the opportunity to gather, enjoy coffee and donuts and reminisce on the old times they had.
Museum Director Mitch Fogle, who served over 22 years in the Navy before retiring in 1994, moved with his family to Ohio in 2005. After working as the building and grounds coordinator at Troy-Hayner Cultural Center for several years, he learned in 2009 the museum was getting reorganized and decided to get involved.
It was a friend of his who came up with the idea for a veteran’s breakfast, which began in 2010, so veterans could get together and visit.
“When it first started out we’d have about 10 to 15 people,” Fogle said. “It’s now up to 40.”
He credited the growth of the breakfast with the camaraderie that goes along with veterans sharing the commonality of serving.
“I think that’s a major thing that veterans miss – the friendships you have in the military,” he said.
Fogle said the earliest veterans served during the second World War and the breakfast normally sees veterans from World War II up to the present-day War in Iraq.
Bob Jacoby served four years during WWII and again during the Korean War. During World War II he served in air rescue in the Pacific, and commented that his comrades oftentimes teased him.
“Since I served in the Pacific, the only way I knew about it was through the radio or through the Stars and Stripes newspaper,” he said. “When I went to Europe, there were seven of World War II vets and I was the only one of us who was in the Pacific. The other six all fought in Europe. They really let me know and really gave me a hard time, ‘Did you have a war going on down there?’ They used to tease me.”
However, during the tour of Europe, he said no matter where he and his comrades went, the children and young adults would come up to express their gratitude.
“What got me is the kids in Europe would come up and thank us — ‘thank you, thank you, thank you, thank for getting rid of the Nazis, thank you for saving us, thank you for this, thank you for that,’” he said. “These are kids of all ages who would constantly come up during our two-week tour. Every place we went everyone wanted to thank us, and they know all about World War II.”
While the Fourth of July often means fireworks and cookouts for many families, Jacoby said there was a more somber reason he remembered the Fourth of July.
“To me it’s about our Heritage,” he said. “But mostly in addition to Memorial Day, it reminds me of the white crosses overseas of friends and relatives that I knew that are still over there.”
At the July 1 breakfast, attendees celebrated the retirement of United States Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Griffieth after 20 years of service, which included deployment to Iraq and Afghanistan and being stationed throughout the world.
In addition to retiring, he and his wife Melinda recently moved back to the United States after spending eight years living in Japan at the (name) Air Base in Okinawa. The move back to the States has brought with it some new things to adjust to.
“One of the biggest shocks coming back and moving to Troy — and it’s not a bad thing to adjust to — is going out and having conversations with people,” he said. “WE can go anywhere and get into a conversation with someone that lasts 20 minutes, which we couldn’t have in Japan because of the language barrier. The people we’ve met are very friendly.”
Reflecting on his military career, Griffieth said that one of the biggest lessons he learned was the basis of success relied on teamwork.
“I would not have been successful individually if I didn’t have the support of my team,” he said.
United States Air Force Captain Nicholas Essinger completed four assignments in 1967-68 during the Vietnam War at a time when American culture was vehemently anti-war.
He has heard many stories of fellow soldiers dealing with verbal assaults, physical altercations and even getting spit on upon their return home, which thankfully were things he did not experience.
“I don’t know if I was lucky or in a different place, but I never got into altercations or physical fights,” he said. “I know there were times it could have happened, but luckily it didn’t.”
He added that in 1968 he was supposed to go to an assignment in Florida as a recruiting officer, which he turned down.
Essinger began his military career at a time when he said service to others was encouraged culturally, by the family and in school which shaped his view toward his service in military Vietnam in spite of the cultural attitude toward the war.
He said it wasn’t all death and destruction; there were many instances of the units supporting the local Vietnamese as our Security Police Squadron worked for an orphanage.
“Years ago, every night on the six o’clock news it was Vietnam, Vietnam, how many battles, how many lives lost. People turned off because it meant killing,” he said. “I didn’t see it that way. I fought to support other units, but not combat. We as citizens, we have a responsibility to duty, to country, to God and to ourselves. That’s the way I was taught.”
Many of his memories of serving in Vietnam were positive. Essinger’s first assignment was serving the 65-70 dogs in the canine unit alongside the handlers, all of whom he called the best people he had ever known.
During his second assignment, which was called Operation: Entertainment, he and his unit brought relief and pleasure to many as a military USO unit.
“We went around the country putting on USO-type shows, and it was a chance to see people relax and laugh a little bit in between all that stress,” he said. “It was very good.”
Lieutenant Robert Tweed went to Europe during World War II as a corporal. He then became a sergeant, and was promoted to an officer because of his leadership skills. During his time as captain, stayed two years after the war during the German occupation, where he was involved in the liberation of one of the major concentration camps.
However, the most trying time came when he fought at the Battle of the Bulge in France, which claimed the lives of two-thirds of his battalion.
“We experienced the danger that every soldier goes through with artillery and being shot at, but the Bulge was particularly bad because it was so d*** cold,” he said. “A lot of guys were having trouble with their feet, and that’s the thing that I remember about the Bulge — the temperature.”
From then on he said it seemed better.
“I was very lucky,” he said. “We got the orders to stop shooting on my birthday, and I couldn’t have wished for a better birthday.”
Fogle said the museum was expanding, which he credited to more interest now than there was a few years prior, patriotism and city support.
“I want them to always remember out veterans,” he said. “Where would we be today without our veterans? It would be a different country all together without our veterans. They have sacrificed so much.”
The Miami Valley Veterans’ Museum is located at 107 W. Main St. in Troy. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The Veterans’ Breakfast is from 9-11 a.m. the first Wednesday of each month and all veterans are invited to attend.
For more information, visit the museum online at www.theyshallnotbeforgotten.org.