Randolph Worrells 20th birthday came and passed before he even realized it.
The U.S. Army paratrooper was so busy fighting in the Vietnam War and trying to stay alive that he didnt even realize until the next day that his birthday had passed.
A lot of guys got killed that day. 67 was a bad year for us in general, said Worrell, 64, of Huntersville. People back home were talking about what college they wanted to go to and their careers, and we were in Vietnam sitting around and talking about whether wed be alive the next day.
When he finally returned home after a year of service, Worrell said, he didnt feel welcomed home because he had served in an unpopular war.
But on Sunday Veterans Day Worrell felt right at home when he visited Mooresvilles Welcome Home Veterans Living Military Museum at Richards Coffee Shop for the first time.
After quietly walking in and signing the coffee shops book of honor, a volunteer rang a bell to announce Worrells arrival. Then the volunteer presented him with a beaded key chain with one strand bearing the colors of the flag and another strand filled with Army-green beads.
Today, I pay my respects to the guys who didnt make it home, said Worrell. Im one of the fortunate ones,
Scores of veterans gathered Sunday at the coffee shop to celebrate the holiday created in their honor. Amid coffee and hugs, they recounted war tales that only other veterans could understand completely.
War leaves an indelible mark on your soul for the rest of your days, said Worrell. In spite of all that I went through, I would still be proud to serve my country again.
Although every day is pretty much Veterans Day at the coffee shop, the shop honored the official holiday on Sunday by having a moment of silence at 11 a.m., public information officer Dave Parkins said. The shop is usually not open on Sundays, but for Veterans Day it opened from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. to serve as a gathering place for veterans and their families.
The coffee shop, which relocated to a larger location on Main Street earlier this year, began as Pats Gourmet Coffee Shop 15 years ago in downtown Mooresville, named for owner Richard Warrens wife.
The shop was not originally supposed to have a patriotic theme. But Warren, an Army combat pilot with the 68th Assault Helicopter Company during the Vietnam War, made sure to greet every veteran who walked through the door with the traditional veterans greeting: Welcome home. The Warrens also began to buy military mementos for the shop including medals, pictures, uniforms and artillery.
Eventually, Warren started serving veterans free coffee every Thursday. People started meeting every Saturday at the coffee shop for bluegrass jam sessions. Over time, the shop gained a reputation for being a safe haven for veterans.
In 2009, Richard Warren died of complications from exposure to Agent Orange. But a few months before his death, he told others he wanted the coffee shop and its commitment to veterans to continue after his death. From that conversation, The Welcome Home Veterans nonprofit organization was formed. Today, more than 750 people visit the coffee shop each week, said Parkins.
Ryan Kelley, a student at West Stokes High School, visited the coffee shop for the first time on Sunday. Kelley is considering entering the military when he gets out of high school.
For more than an hour, Kelley sat and talked with Robert Goldbaugh Sr. about his time serving in the Air Force during the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Ive really enjoyed hearing about his experience, said Kelley. This is a brotherhood and fellowship between the forces, and theyre all working for the same people and the same goal.
At one point, country recording artist Ansel Brown played a music video at the coffee shop that hed produced in Nashville.
The Huntersville resident said he wrote the song, Our Country, because he thought Americans needed a song to celebrate their veterans. While filming the music video, he decided he wanted to feature some of the veterans who regularly visit Richards Coffee Shop.
Its coffee with heroes in here. Its one of the most uplifting things you can experience, said Brown. Veterans Day is the day you remember that freedom isnt free.
Coffee-shop volunteer and veteran Norm Brittain said attitudes towards veterans have improved since he served during the Vietnam War era.
At that time, people would frequently march outside military compounds with signs that said Down with Pigs and Down with the U.S.A.
People havent always appreciated veterans, but thats changing. Places like this help, said Brittain. And for veterans, this is the kind of place where they can come and talk to people who care.
Worrell said he hopes residents remember all that veterans have done to protect the countrys freedoms every day, not just on Veterans Day.
Its no coincidence that the majority of the flag is red. Thats for our fallen comrades who have shed blood for this country, said Worrell. I hope people dont forget that.
Arriero: 704-777-7070; Twitter: @earriero
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