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American Heroes Cafe honors veterans once a week

By Ben Rodgers

GREEN BAY – Every Friday at Festival Foods on University Avenue there is coffee, donuts and camaraderie open to veterans at the American Heroes Cafe.

Young and old are welcome, and the only requirement is having served in the U.S. military.

Don Schimmels

Don Schimmels, a 100-year-old WWII Air Force veteran from Luxemburg, is quick to remember the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign from 1943-44, when U.S. forces established airfields and naval bases in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“It was a little coral atoll surrounded by ocean,” Schimmels said.

Having left the Air Force with the rank of technical sergeant all those years ago, Schimmels is grateful for the American Heroes Cafe, where now he sits each week and chats with fellow veterans.

“It’s really great that we have a place to come to like this for free,” he said. “We get coffee, donuts and everybody gets along with each other. There’s no friction.”

Schimmels and his experiences are an example of living history, but talk on Fridays isn’t necessarily all about service for the 30 to 40 veterans who attend each week.

“I was brought up over the last 50 years to not talk about (our service), but we don’t sit here and swap war stories, we try to solve the world’s problems,” said a laughing Duane Reha, an Army infantry Vietnam veteran, in between bites of a bear claw.

The Purple Heart recipient came to the American Heroes Cafe at the request of his neighbor, Dave Ziesmer, military police for the Army, 1976-79.

“It’s something I look forward to,” Ziesmer said of the cafe. “It’s something I tried a few times. It’s an instant brotherhood and sisterhood if you were in the military. It’s every branch and we don’t judge. I feel good about it.”

Ziesmer is a registered nurse at the Green Bay VA Clinic. He said the cafe welcomes all veterans, especially younger ones who served in more recent conflicts.

“I think they don’t understand they fit in here,” Ziesmer said. “We don’t care who you are, your branch, your size or your color. They fit in with us.”

Betty Allen, an 83-year-old Marine, who achieved the rank of sergeant E4 during the Korean War, said veterans at the cafe come from different branches and served in different eras, but the gathering is about camaraderie.

“Come and enjoy yourself, meet fellow veterans and it’s a nice, friendly atmosphere,” she said. “We have fun. Sometimes you can hear us from the front of the store.”

Leon Kaiver, second vice commander of AMVETS Post 57 in Howard, left, presents Rick Teegarden, University Avenue Festival Foods store director, with the Golden Eagle award Sept. 6. The award is given to businesses that have shown outstanding support to local veterans. Ben Rodgers Photo

The group is thankful for the opportunity to get together once a week. So much so, that as a show of appreciation, they honored the store on Friday, Sept. 6.

Leon Kaiver, second vice commander of AMVETS Post 57 in Howard, presented Festival Foods with the Golden Eagle award, given to businesses that have shown outstanding support to local veterans.

“I’m really humbled that they would think that much of us to give us this honor,” said Rick Teegarden, University Festival store director. “We’re just trying to give back to them for what they gave to us.”

Teegarden was too young for Vietnam, but he is well aware of the difficulty returning veterans faced when they came home.

He said he is happy to provide a place where they can be themselves.

“I feel like they finally have a time of healing,” Teegarden said. “I hear them laughing up here, they’re swapping stories they aren’t telling anyone else probably, and when they are up here, they are healing.”

Kaiver, who reached the rank of master chief petty officer during his 22 years of service with the Navy, said it was an obvious choice to honor the University Festival with the Golden Eagle award.

“It’s extremely important,” he said of the cafe. “It gives veterans an opportunity to sit down in a formal setting. We all have that in common and understand each other.”

The American Heroes Cafe runs from 8 a.m. to noon every Friday at the University location above the deli in the back. There is no cost to attend.

“They’re welcome, they’re appreciated and they’re honored,” Teegarden said. “It’s a safe space for them. They can come here and be among other veterans.”

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