So much to respect

Published 10:06 pm Thursday, May 14, 2009

When I arrived at Bunny’s Restaurant that Wednesday, I knew it would be a long morning. The smell of smoke permeated the building, I wasn’t certain about the focus of the article I was working on and there were about a dozen people sitting around the table waiting for “the guy from the Suffolk News-Herald.”

Group interviews are tough for the same reason that it’s hard to walk on a crowded beach with your wife in the middle of the summer — there are just too many distractions, too many people clamoring for your attention.

I sat next to Retired Navy Chief Stanley Woody and tried to start the interview, looking forward to hearing about how he had come to be a prisoner of war during World War II. I was curious about his experience in the Japanese prison camps, about his liberation by Allied forces and about what had brought him back to Bunny’s every month for the past 30 years or so.

Email newsletter signup

It quickly became apparent that the folks sitting around us at the long breakfast table had their own list of questions, their own favorite stories. Among other things, they urged him to tell me about being forced to wear a kind of G-string during his captivity. I thought that breakfast was a little early for such a topic, but Mr. Woody clearly was used to telling the story and didn’t even seem to mind that what probably had been intended as a form of humiliation had finally become the humorous part of a brutal story.

It was also clear that he took no offense from either the laughter or the interruptions. I quickly realized I shouldn’t, either. After all, nearly everyone in the room had come this morning to spend some time with Mr. Woody and with Dame Mary S. Barraco, two heroes of World War II. The reverence and admiration were evident in word and deed.

In fact, that respect is what has keeps many “members” of the breakfast group coming back each month. For Mr. Woody and his fellow veterans, the gathering was about sharing stories and reviving the spirit of camaraderie that they recalled from their years in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Nearly all of Mr. Woody’s brothers-in-arms are gone now, though, and he is surrounded at these breakfasts mostly by people whose only understanding of that terrible time is purely historical in nature. They never lived it, as he did.

Still, they love and respect him for the sacrifices he made and for the things he suffered in defense of his nation. They just can’t wait to hear him tell his story to someone new.

Leaving Bunny’s Restaurant that day, I looked at the clock in my car and saw that nearly three hours had passed at that table. The smell of smoke clung to my clothes, I was going to be extremely late getting into the office and I had pages of notes that I still wasn’t sure how to organize into an article for the paper.

But I understood the respect the folks in that room had for Mr. Woody and for Dame Barraco. And — just like that group of friends — I couldn’t wait to tell the story of the two WWII heroes.