Gordon Hold is an 81-year-old Army veteran who was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Dudley Bang-Ura is a 36-year-old Fort Lewis soldier who is preparing for his first deployment next year.
Over plates of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie, the two shared stories. Hold earned an airborne rating. Bang-Ura has yet to jump from an airplane. Hold drove trucks. Bang-Ura is a medic specializing in preventative medicine.
Forty-five years might separate the two, but they hit it off Wednesday during a Thanksgiving meal for soldiers and residents of a Tacoma retirement home.
"We’re getting to know each other. And he’s telling me a lot about jumping (from an airplane)," said Bang-Ura, a Tacoma resident assigned to the 227th Company, 62nd Medical Brigade. "I’m starting to get some inspiration."
About 35 soldiers ate with the 57 residents of the Northwest Retirement Center. The meal, in its second year, is a collaboration between the retirement center and Better Opportunities for Single Soldiers, an Army-sponsored program that plans activities for the post’s single service members.
Ten soldiers attended last year’s dinner, and it was a hit with the residents – many of whom are residents, said Yessica Patrick, the center’s recreational director.
"Last year, they called us," she said. "This year, we called them and said we could accommodate more soldiers."
It was one of several pre-Thanksgiving events for the area’s service members. At Fort Lewis, unit cooks prepared feasts for the soldiers, often served by officers wearing dress uniforms. The 80th Ordnance Battalion, 593rd Sustainment Brigade played an all-day football tournament on a field outside the brigade’s dining facility.
Most service members have Thursday off to spend the holiday with their family and friends.
"We know times are hard and not all soldiers have family in the area," BOSS president Stephanie Banuelos said. "So we try to put together a nice meal for them."
Sgt 1st Class Christine Dykstra, a 37-year-old Texas native, arrived at Fort Lewis in June to join the 227th Medical Company, a preventative medicine unit that will deploy to Iraq in March. The company had more than a dozen members attend.
"This is nice, especially for the younger soldiers, to spend time with some of the older vets," she said. "We appreciate the fact that they served before us to put us in the position we’re in today."
At a nearby table, Spc. Lee Brown and Sgt. David Manzanares – also of the 227th Medical Company – shared a meal with John Danbacker. The 84-year-old man served four years as a military policeman in the Air Force and nodded as the soldiers and other nearby retirees shared their experiences of serving in the military.
Brown, a 24-year-old Tacoma resident, said participating in activities with veterans is a way of honoring the past.
"I’d like the same thing when I get where they are," he said.
Danbacker, like many other residents of the retirement center, appeared to relish the opportunity to share a meal with the soldiers.
"I got no complaints," said Danbacker, poking his fork into a large scoop of mashed potatoes drenched in thick gravy. "First-class food, first-class company."
Photo by Dean J. Koepfler.