ANDERSON – Larry Abshire says he’s lucky to have left the field of battle when he did.
It was 1968, and Abshire was serving in the Navy during the Vietnam War. He was to be on one of five planes departing for the United States from Saigon.
The night before his departure, Abshire was awakened by the sound of an alarm. He quickly rolled off his cot and laid on the ground.
When the alarm ended, Abshire learned he had survived a brush with death.
“An officer said to us, ‘You guys must be living right, because we were just mortared,’ ” he recalled.
The Tet Offensive came shortly after Abshire left the country, leading to the bloodiest period of the war.
“God was looking after me,” Abshire said.
Abshire is one of several veterans who meet the second Friday of each month at the Anderson Church of the Brethren for food and fellowship.
While the church has a pacifist background, pastor Robin Mayer said reaching out to veterans is an opportunity for the church to be “peacemakers.”
“Many veterans carry stress that is not always given the attention it deserves,” Mayer said. “This is an opportunity for us to help them find peace.”
Mayer said it may seem contradictory for a pacifist organization to hold such an event for veterans, but it’s not. She quoted Romans 14:19, which reads “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”
John Wrightsman was drafted to serve in the Korean War. Due to his religious beliefs, Wrightsman chose to serve as a conscientious objector and was assigned to work at Saint Elizabeth Hospital in Lafayette. He worked at the hospital for three years in the receiving and shipping department.
Shortly after finishing his service, he met his wife Susan, and has lived in Anderson ever since.
He said he enjoys coming to the dinner each month to touch base with other veterans and stay informed about veterans’ affairs.
Each dinner is followed by an speaker. Friday it was Mayor Kevin Smith, who talked about the latest developments in the city, including the recent GTI announcement, which is expected to create more than 300 jobs.
A more recent veteran, Wayne Huffman, who served in the Air Force from 1983-2003, said he witnessed firsthand the nuclear disarmament of the Eastern theater during the Cold War.
Huffman, who currently serves as the personnel director for the city, said he remembers watching a Soviet representative enter his base to do an inspection. It was a bit strange at first, he said, but after talking to the inspector, he realized the man wasn’t much different from himself.
For Huffman, being around other veterans can be cathartic.
“A lot of guys walk around with all this stuff on their chests for years,” he said. “This is an opportunity for veterans to bond and share stories.”