For my birthday on November 22, 2013, I was given a collection of war tales from a veteran named Jim Crismon (third from the left) and his wife, Cori Crismon (third from the right). Instead of going to school, my friends, Lindsey Roberts (second from the left) and Erica Davis (fourth from the left), drove twenty miles to the Fantastic Cafe in Santa Ana. We were there to interview Demetrius Harakas (far right), the restaurant’s conversational owner with wide-open ears for WWII veterans. The walls were plastered with license plates of all the different states and pictures of President Eisenhower and the Beatles. Not to mention that the booths were livened up with vintage jukeboxes and radios that played the age’s favorite rock-n-roll and doo-wop from the 1950s.
Stories filled the air. Jim and Cori did so much talking that they barely touched the complimentary breakfast the Demetrius served them. I didn’t think they came for the breakfast, anyways, but rather to share with us what was more important: Jim’s 50-year-old jeep he commandeered, without permission, from the U.S. Army, letters Cori sent him while he was away, and his close encounter with a leprosy colony.
Jim Crismon was a naval officer during World War II who was promoted to the rank of Master Chief by the end of his 25-year service. He served for the entire duration of World War II and has garnered 21 medals for his work in the armed forces. Jim says his proudest achievement, however, is the gold service stripes on his sleeve, which he was awarded for over twelve years of good conduct. The fact that they are gold means that he served those years without a disciplinary infraction.
Taking in all of this wisdom and experience is Demetrius Harakas. As a weekly ritual for him, he has listened to nearly 70 veterans, taking them for a drive in his military car that he shipped out of Boston a year ago. He brings those veterans to his cafe where he’ll serve them a homey breakfast and sit with them for hours at a time. Many veterans come to him with medals they can’t wait to talk to about or pictures they laugh and cry over. But even though he does a lot of listening, he has a warehouse of anecdotes himself. While we interviewed him, he talked about finding old Nazi passports at garage sales and coming across some love letters by a young soldier at the time of World War II.
The best piece of advice Demetrius ever got from a WWII veteran was that you should never take a person’s service for granted, even if they don’t serve in the U.S. military. No matter how great these war heroes are, they are one of many cogs in America’s great war machine that brought the liberties over 400 million people enjoy. He says if it weren’t for them, almost everybody would be speaking German right now (no offense to German people).
I left with wide eyes and wisdom I was willing to keep. Not to mention tidbits of this grand old nation. For example, did you know that the U.S. originally had two national flags (one for wartime and one for peacetime)? I renewed my sense of appreciation, not just for this nation and the veterans who serve it, but for the people who I’ve taken for granted. And that’s all I could ask for on my 17th birthday.
I can only sum up my blog post by showing you the video that Lindsey, Erica, and I made to introduce our project, Breakfast with Champions (http://breakfastwithchampions.wordpress.com/)