A bond forged from wars, remembered over coffee

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BRATTLEBORO — In a quiet room in the back of the American Legion there is fresh coffee and 12 empty coffee cups waiting for a group of veterans that meets weekly. The meetings have been happening for nearly a year. The members start to trickle in just after 8:40 a.m., talking amongst themselves about what happened during the week and how sugaring is going for a few.

Robert Tortolani, a Vietnam veteran, comes in about 10 minutes before the meeting starts with an arm full of doughnuts, and people start to flock to the table to grab a cup of coffee and doughnut before sitting down at a round table.

At 9 a.m., Tortolani starts the meeting, talking about a veteran's summit and a special newspaper pull-out about veterans. They share the articles and the magazine around to the members in this small room.

As the minutes fly by they hit a range of topics, from honor flights to D.C. to more serious issues like the rise in suicide rates among veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ernest Perham, a Vietnam veteran who spent 15 months as a door gunner and an infantry RTO in the jungles of Vietnam, shared a story from a book about a psychiatrist whose helicopter crashed while flying the front lines in Vietnam.

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"We talk about everything," Perham said after the meeting. "We got a World War II pilot who shares his war stories, we share our war stories and other times we share whatever comes to our mind."

They talked about traveling around the United States and how to get rid of certain animals in the attic.

As the clock ticks past 10 a.m. they start to wrap up their meeting, a final message from Tortolani letting them know that the following week there will be someone visiting the group to honor the Vietnam veterans with a pin. From there, some stay in the small room to keep talking as others go on with their way.

Perham said they joined the group because veterans develop a bond with these type of men and that if you were in combat, that bond is tighter than a marriage. He said some of the men in this veteran coffee group have many shared experiences from their times in the military.

"The group is someone you can chat with, that understand where you have been and what you have been through," said Perham. "Talking to other vets, you can get a lot off your mind, find them easier to talk too. It's not like being able to talk to someone who does not understand."

The group meets at the American Legion every Tuesday at 9 a.m.


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