Repaying a debt

Published 10:50 pm Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ike Hylton is, quit literally, the last of a dying breed. As a survivor of the Bataan Death March during World War II, he saw plenty of his brothers-in-arms succumb to the terrible conditions and the worse treatment they received at the hands of their Japanese captors.

Hylton survived the torture, the forced march and the inhumane conditions of captivity in Southeast Asia to finally be liberated and returned home safely. He and about a dozen other survivors from the area began meeting regularly about 50 years ago to trade stories, give each other support and partake in the camaraderie of men who have shared a terrible experience and lived to tell about it.

Sometime during the ensuing years, those men settled on Bunny’s Restaurant in Suffolk as a central location for their meetings, and whichever of them were available have gathered there each month ever since. As some moved away from the area or finally lost their battles with age and infirm, the number of men attending from the original group dwindled. Hylton is the last surviving member.

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But an incredible thing happened during that time. As people began to hear about the meetings — people with connections to the men and people without connections — they began attending, as well, hoping to spend time in the presence of true heroes.

Participants in the monthly breakfasts have heard incredible stories of bravery and perseverance in the face of terrible circumstances. The lessons they’ve learned about the human spirit cannot be measured.

America owes much to Ike Hylton and the men like him who fought for the cause of freedom and justice during that war. Those who honor them at breakfast each month recognize that debt and pay it off a little at a time by spending time with the heroes and making them know their sacrifices are appreciated.

It’s an example we would all do well to follow. Find a veteran and thank him or her for serving. It’s the least we can do.