Every third Saturday of the month, veterans from different wars, military branches and assignments gather, with their spouses, for eggs, bacon and a community that understands them.
“A lot of these gentlemen have had it worse than I have,” says David Rynier, a 10-year Army veteran who says he served in Operation Desert Storm. “When you’re a vet, other people don’t understand you as well.”
The Veterans Breakfast Club meets once a month at the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant in Ronks, bringing anywhere from 60 to 80 veterans together for a meal. Veterans from around Lancaster County come out, mostly after learning about the breakfast by word of mouth from other vets.
Bill Terry founded the Lancaster County breakfast in 2016 to connect his “brothers in arms” after attending a similar gathering in Gettysburg that had been meeting for more than 20 years.
“After sitting and having breakfast with them, I said I got to do this,” says Terry, a retired Navy medical deep-sea diver who served in Vietnam.
When the veterans breakfast first started, two World War II veterans were attending. There are veterans from the wars in Korea and Afghanistan, and most are Vietnam War veterans, Terry says. Since Vietnam War veterans were degraded when they returned home, Terry says they still salute them and say, “Welcome home” to them.
The Veterans Breakfast Club has outgrown its breakfast spot several times since it first began with about 20 veterans at the Lyndon Diner in 2016. As it grew, the group moved to several locations before finding its current home at Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant.
Terry is constantly inviting people to come to the breakfast, he says, stopping people with vets hats on or in the Home Depot veterans parking spots. David Bjorkman, a veteran at the breakfast, says he was stopped by Terry at a Costco and invited to attend. He’s been coming for two years now.
Rynier’s wife, Mary, also calls every single veteran on their list — about 180 veterans who have ever attended a breakfast — each month to get a head count and invite them individually.
Several veterans say they have been coming for years because they enjoy talking about stories from their service and being with people who have a common understanding of their service. (Plus the food is good, they say.) For others, the February breakfast was their first one — and they plan to return.
Tom Asplin, a retired educator at Donegal High School and retired Navy veteran, says he attends the Veterans Breakfast Club with the memory of “people who didn’t make it,” like his friend from high school who died in Vietnam within two weeks of his arrival.
At the February meeting, Rynier was surprised with a “blanket of honor” provided to him by the American Legion Riders. He has had recent health problems related to post-traumatic stress disorder, he says. He was wrapped in the blanket by the American Legion Riders, bringing tears to his eyes.
“It meant a lot,” Rynier says. “It means there are people out there who care.”