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Senior Veterans Forge New Friendships at Golden Age Games

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

BIRMINGHAM, Ala., June 4, 2009 – At first glance, Angelo Athas and Harry R. Johnson looked as though they’d known each other their entire lives. They looked more like teenagers than senior citizens, talking and laughing and joking as they waited for their turn at shuffleboard.

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Angleo Athas, right, an Army and World War II veteran from Texas, and Harry R. Johnson, a Navy and Korean War veteran from California, become quick friends as they wait for their turn at shuffleboard June 3, 2009, in Birmingham, Ala., at the 23rd Annual National Veterans Golden Age Games. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden

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But the truth is they met just this week, and their quick bond developed through mutual experiences in their military service as well as their passion for competing each year in the National Veterans Golden Age Games, they said.

“It seems as though we’ve known each other for years,” said Johnson, 76, a Navy veteran who served during the Korean War era. “That’s one thing about the people you meet [at the Golden Age Games]; everyone enjoys each other’s company and meeting fellow veterans.”

Forging new bonds and reuniting with old friends has been a common theme among the senior veterans competing here this week in the 23rd Annual National Golden Age Games. And although many of them haven’t served in the military or been a part of a team in decades, the camaraderie and brotherhood of the military community never really goes away.

Johnson served from 1951 to 1954, spending much of that time on a Navy destroyer in the Pacific Ocean. He said he and his shipmates were like one big family. But he found a new extended family after nearly 54 years when he decided to compete in the Golden Age Games for the first time in 2008, the Chula Vista, Calif., native said.

“This kind of camaraderie and easiness is something you tend to miss from the service once you go into the civilian world,” he said, adding how much he’s enjoyed being here for his second Golden Age Games.

More than 700 veterans, representing 38 states and every major American conflict from World War II to the Persian Gulf War are participating in this year’s games. New bonds are being built at every event, said Athas, an 83-year-old Army and World War II veteran.

Even in the hotel where most of the veterans here are staying, new friendships are being made, as veterans can be found in the lobby and hallways playing dominoes or spades or having a cup of coffee with one another.

“[The Golden Age Games] gives us an opportunity to meet new friends, new acquaintances, and not only that, you have the camaraderie of being fellow veterans,” Athas said.

But although they have their military experiences in common, “the old days” aren’t talked about as much as one may think, said Athas, a Garland, Texas, native. Just knowing that so many other people can relate is enough to build new friendships, he said.

“We come here not to rehash what we did in the old days,” he explained. “We come here to make new memories with our new friends. You look forward to seeing them next year.”

The Golden Age Games are open to all U.S. military veterans 55 and older who receive care at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility. The games are co-sponsored by the VA, the Help Hospitalized Veterans nonprofit organization and the Veterans Canteen Service. They also serve as a qualifying event every other year for the National Senior Olympic Games.

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Department of Veterans Affairs

Related Articles:
Senior Veterans Compete to Win at Golden Age Games

Click photo for screen-resolution imageSenior military veterans play dominoes between events in the 23rd National Veterans Golden Age Games in Birmingham, Ala., June 3, 2009. The competition attracted more than 700 senior veterans from 38 states. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageRobert Bowser, left, an Army and Korean War veteran, and Curtis R. Diggles, an Army and Vietnam War veteran, play a game of spades between events in the 23rd National Veterans Golden Age Games in Birmingham, Ala., June 3, 2009. DoD photo by Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden  
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