HOMER, Nebraska | Bill Morgan got home and sat down before it hit him. The Vietnam War veteran from Homer got choked up.
"I started thinking about it and it hit me," the 74-year-old said. "I couldn't get over it."
Morgan refers to a lunch at Buffalo Wild Wings in Sioux City on Feb. 6. He had a couple of beers and a meal with fellow veterans Richard Wiseman and Jim Horak. All three wore uniforms they don while representing Homer's American Legion Buckland Post No. 97 performing military rites at the funeral of Vietnam War veteran Bob Zeisler, 72, of South Sioux City, who was laid to rest at St. John's Cemetery, rural Jackson, Nebraska.
"We have a reputation as being the best firing squad in the Dakota County," said Morgan, who served for five years with the U.S. Navy. "So we help at military funerals frequently."
The three men helped one day prior as South Sioux City resident Charlie Kruse, 80, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, was buried on a chilly, windswept day at St. John's Cemetery.
After Zeisler's burial, these "three amigos" traipsed off to Buffalo Wild Wings, where a waitress thanked them for their service to our country. She soon returned with a handwritten note and a pair of $10 bills.
"There were a couple of young gals at a table close to us and they each gave $10 to help pay our bill," Wiseman said.
"They wanted to show their thanks for our service," Morgan added.
"We saw you walk in and we wanted to show you our appreciation for sacrificing and serving our country," the note read. "Sorry, we are poor Wayne State College students. Thank you so much!"
It looks like it was signed, "S&P."
"They weren't even alive during Vietnam," said Wiseman, 71, another Vietnam War veteran who has a Purple Heart, among other citations, to show for a pair of stints in Vietnam while serving with the U.S. Navy, the military branch he served for 30 years.
"We were disappointed we didn't get a chance to thank them," said Horak, 66, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army and Army Reserves and the American Legion Post Commander in Homer, who noted the trio finished their meal and ordered another beer.
And that's when another pair of diners, two well-dressed men, got up and thanked this trio for their service to our country. Apparently, the pair went to the waitress and paid for the veterans' lunch.
"We got ready to leave and our waitress said your bill had been paid," Morgan said. "All that we owed was for the beer we each had after lunch. We used the $20 from the Wayne State students for those."
Morgan said he and Wiseman and Horak have been thanked for their service at various points in the past. But, he continued, never has a stranger picked up a dinner tab.
"You know, coming home from the service during Vietnam, it was different," Morgan said. "You were told to take your uniform off immediately."
Morgan sat and thought about the experience. He asked his wife, Sandy Morgan, if he should pen a Mini editorial for the Journal's front page. Sandy Morgan, instead, called me to ask if the gesture might warrant a story. I met with Bill, Richard and Jim on Friday at the Legion in Homer, where this trio spends all kinds of time in service to others. The Homer American Legion is locally famous for its fish fry bashes held the first Saturday of every month, save for summer months. You pay $11 and get all you can eat in three kids of fish (carp, pollock, catfish), chicken strips, homemade French fries, baked beans, coleslaw and more.
Men and women who served their country now serve fish from 4:30 p.m. until it runs out.
"We raise money to send students to the American Legion Boys State and Girls State," Wiseman said.
"We also need money for the upkeep of this building," Horak added.
"And, we're going to get started on putting up a flag pole and monument between these buildings," said Morgan, nodding to the west.
When they're not fishing together or serving their community through the Legion, these three stand by to help other veterans in Dakota County whether it's a chaplain's role, a flag folder, a rifleman, whatever they can do. On Tuesday, for example, all three will offer their time and skill in serving as members of the Honor Guard for Margaret Jessen, a World War II veteran from rural Dakota City, Nebraska, whose funeral takes place at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at St. Cornelius Catholic Church in Homer. (Jessen was one of 20 Siouxland women the Journal featured last fall in "Serving Her Country: Women in the Military," a news series that dovetailed into a current exhibit at the Betty Strong Encounter Center in Sioux City.)
"It generally takes 14 veterans for the Honor Guard at a funeral," Wiseman said. "If you want to do it right."
These men do. And the time they spent with me wasn't out of any indulgence or self-service. If they don't have another meal purchased for them, that's OK. They figure they're money ahead, knowing they helped serve and protect thankful folks like those who, while toiling in anonymity, reached out during a lunch hour at Buffalo Wild Wings.
The "three amigos" got the message. They pinned it up near the front door at the Homer American Legion. They're still talking about it.
Said Morgan: "We'd really like to let those people know how much we appreciate what they did."