At the Veterans Breakfast Club,

Stories Unite Us.

Check out our online & in-person veterans storytelling programs and see our full event schedule below. All are welcome to join us!

Growing Up Marine

Date: June 17, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

Brian Ahearn is the son of a Vietnam Marine veteran and author of a memoir, His Story, My Story, Our Story, a heartrending tale that illuminates the stark realities of war, from the battlegrounds of Vietnam to the emotional frontlines at home.

Following a Marine veteran, the narrative intricately unravels his grapple with PTSD and the profound ripple effect it has on his family, particularly his son. Crafted from the personal wartime accounts of Brian Ahearn Sr. and juxtaposed with his son’s, Brian Ahearn Jr., candid reflections on growing up under the shadow of trauma, this story bridges two generations marked by war’s enduring scars.

The dual lens through which His Story, My Story, Our Story is told provides a first-hand account of war and its aftershock within a family setting. Through raw storytelling, it seeks to guide Marines in evading service-related pitfalls, fortify understanding between Marine families, and mend the delicate fabric of father-son relationships.

Addressing the often unspoken emotional challenges faced by military families, this profound and insightful work serves as a healing blueprint for those navigating the intricate dance of love, duty, trauma and legacy, standing as a beacon of hope and resilience.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

The Untold Story of American POWs at Buchenwald

Date: June 20, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

During World War II, 168 American airmen found themselves in one of the most notorious concentration camps of the Holocaust: Buchenwald. This unexpected and harrowing chapter of their captivity began in 1944 and stands as a grim reminder of the broader atrocities of the war.

Author Ric Martini joins us to discuss his research into this disturbing subject, which he compiled in his book Betrayed: Secrecy, Lies, and Consequences. Ric’s father, Frederic C. Martini, was one of those imprisoned at Buchenwald.

These airmen were primarily bomber crew members shot down over German-occupied Europe. Typically, Allied airmen captured by German forces were considered prisoners of war (POWs) and were sent to military-run POW camps, as stipulated by the Geneva Convention. However, this group of airmen faced a different fate due to a series of tragic misunderstandings and bureaucratic failings.

After being shot down, the airmen initially evaded capture with the help of local resistance networks. Unfortunately, these efforts often ended in their eventual capture by German forces. Labeled as “terrorflieger” or “terror fliers” by the Nazi regime—propaganda that painted them as criminals rather than soldiers—their fate was dire. The Gestapo, rather than the military, took custody of these men. The Gestapo bypassed the established protocol for treating captured Allied airmen and instead classified them as spies or saboteurs, stripping them of the protections normally afforded to POWs.

In August 1944, these captured airmen were transported to Buchenwald, a concentration camp primarily used for political prisoners and other targets of the Nazi regime. Their arrival at Buchenwald was marked by shock and confusion; they were housed alongside political prisoners, resistance fighters, and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.

Conditions at Buchenwald were horrific. The airmen were subjected to the same brutal treatment as other inmates: overcrowding, inadequate food, harsh labor, and rampant disease. The camp’s SS guards showed no regard for their status as military personnel. Instead, the airmen faced beatings, deprivation, and the constant threat of execution.

The turning point for these airmen came through the persistence and bravery of a few individuals. Among the prisoners were individuals who, through covert communication and sheer determination, managed to get word to the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) officers about the presence of Allied airmen in the camp. The Luftwaffe, still adhering to some remnants of the military code of honor, was outraged to learn that legitimate POWs were being held in a concentration camp.

Under pressure from the Luftwaffe, and fearing repercussions from the advancing Allied forces, the SS transferred the airmen to Stalag Luft III, a more conventional POW camp. This transfer occurred in October 1944, nearly two months after their initial arrival at Buchenwald. Despite their rescue from the concentration camp, the physical and psychological scars of their experience at Buchenwald remained with them.

The story of the 168 American airmen held at Buchenwald highlights the complex interplay of military protocols, Nazi ideology, and the chaotic nature of wartime Europe. It underscores the brutality of the Nazi regime and the resilience of those who endured its horrors. These airmen’s survival, against such grim odds, stands as a testament to their courage and the enduring human spirit amidst one of history’s darkest periods.

But another disturbing element of this tragedy is that the 81 American veterans who returned home endured the indignity of the US government denying that they’d ever been there. The denial, based on “alternative facts,” had a profound effect on the lives of men who had first been betrayed to the Germans and then betrayed by the government they had suffered to defend. 

Ric’s father, like many other Buchenwald airmen, came home with serious medical problems and acute PTSD. These men were told by the VA that their problems were imaginary because they could not have been at Buchenwald. They were considered to be either lying or delusional. This bizarre injustice continued for almost 40 years, until some of the files related to the Buchenwald airmen were declassified.

Piecing together this story involved reviewing over 160,000 pages of declassified documents. Ric’s book project took seven years and required the assistance of archivists, curators, translators, and fellow researchers in the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, and New Zealand.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

 

Found: A Veteran Story by Best-Selling Author Jack McLean

Date: June 24, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

 

Jack McLean joins us again to talk about his new book, Found: A Veteran Story which tells how he healed from Vietnam.

Last year, Jack recounted the history behind his best-selling memoir of 2009, Loon: A Marine Story. Jack served in Vietnam in 1967-68 tour with Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division. He survived a lot of combat, including a harrowing three-day fight at LZ Loon near the Laotian border in I Corps.

Jack’s homecoming was both unique and typical of the Vietnam generation of veterans. On the one hand, he went straight to Harvard University, the first Vietnam veteran to attend.

On the other hand, he found it difficult to connect with fellow veterans or with anyone who was interested in his service. In 1968, he walked into a VFW hall and received only the chilliest of cold shoulders from the older veterans there. “Nobody offered me a beer,” he writes. “Nobody invited me to join the card game. Nobody waved me over to the pool table. Nobody welcomed me home.”

Coupled with survivor guilt and un-processed trauma of combat, such neglect and isolation only fed his sense that something was wrong.

Jack found healing as he tracks down fellow Marines and the Gold Star family members who never made it home.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

Astronaut Jan Davis

Date: June 27, 2024
Time: 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
Location: Zoom, Facebook, YouTube
Events | Online Events

Astronaut Jan Davis talks about her life in aviation and the legacy of service in her family. Her memoir Air Born, tells the story of her and her father.

Her father was Ben Smotherman, a B-17 pilot in World War II, vwho aliantly fought in the European Theater of Operations before being shot down over Holland in July 1943. After enduring twenty-one months as a prisoner of war, he was finally reunited with his loved ones and was able to start a family. Years later, after perusing his Wartime Log, his daughter Jan made discoveries about her father’s experiences that shed light on her own life path. As a Space Shuttle astronaut, Jan Davis went through intensive training, flew NASA jets, and completed three spaceflights, spending over 673 hours on orbit. Her experiences and emotions during her launches and space travel echoed those of her father during his combat missions, highlighting the unshakable bond between father and daughter.

With Air Born, you can join in on a flight through history as Jan Davis relates her father’s heroic service and draws connections between his combat missions and her own spaceflights. Discover the ins and outs of pilot training in the 1940s alongside Ben Smotherman and bear witness to his harrowing capture, interrogation, and imprisonment at Stalag Luft III. Rejoice with the POWs as World War II finally ends and the prisoners are returned home to continue pursuing their life’s goals. Shadow Jan Davis as she expertly navigates a career characterized by space exploration, scientific experimentation, and phenomenal feats of engineering. And draw inspiration from the intersection of two completely different yet uniquely connected worlds brought together by a common link of family and flying.

We’re grateful to UPMC for Life and Tobacco Free Adagio Health for sponsoring this event!

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