Restaurant corrals vets for free dinner

Golden Corral owner Mike Kossak, left, talks with Army veteran Harold Goodrich and Goodrichs friend, Eleanor Hills. -
Golden Corral owner Mike Kossak, left, talks with Army veteran Harold Goodrich and Goodrichs friend, Eleanor Hills.
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MARYSVILLE The advertised starting time for the event was
5 p.m. By 4:30 p.m., the line to get inside the Golden Corral Buffet was out the door of the establishment on State Avenue.
By shortly after 5 p.m., the line snaked all the way down the side of the restaurant and into the rear parking lot.
While the visitors freely admitted they liked the idea of a free meal, the veterans and active military personnel crammed into the restaurant said there were plenty of other reasons they made the drive from as far as 50 miles away.
You come down here to see your brothers and sisters, said Army and Korean War veteran Don Manning, who in the same breath lamented the fact the ranks of vets from his era keep getting smaller and smaller.
Golden Corral owner Mike Kossak wasnt sure how many
Veterans Days hes offered free meals to local service personnel, past and present. But as he rushed around seating people and even serving some drinks, he genuinely seemed to be having a blast.
Every time I walk across the dining room, people are stopping me and shaking my hand, Kossak said. But its not about me, its about them.
Among many others, them included two World War II vets, Ralph Thompson, 85, and Robert Sebers, 83. Normally, Kossak doesnt sit people together at a table if they dont come in together. But this night was different and Thompson and Sebers, along with their wives, just seemed a natural pairing. Kossak added this isnt the first Veterans Day where hes seated former strangers at a single table.
It brings people together. You walk by and you hear them swapping their fish stories, Kossak said.
We told a few tales, Sebers admitted.
Betty Thompson also is a veteran, having served stateside during the Korean War. Ralph Thompson talked a lot about his trip home from Manila on a hospital ship. He also was excited to show off an ornate Christmas tree ornament he had just received from the Disabled American Veterans.
Complete with a flag and images of the Pentagon and the former World Trade Center, the ornament commemorates the events of 9/11.
As it turned out, the DAV was well represented for the evening, which seemed to be turning into a pretty good fundraiser for the organization. As they have in the past, the group was accepting donations at the doors of the restaurant. Marine and Air Force veteran John Forgette noted there is no active DAV post in the immediate area. So he and other representatives drove in from Bellingham. Eugene Goldsmith is chairman of the board for the Washington DAV and formally a bombardier aboard B-52s during World War II.
You know the Pentagon was just the Department of the Army back then, noted Harold Goodrich as he chatted with Goldsmith. In return, Goldsmith noted Goodrich served in the Army Air Corps before the Air Force even came into existence.
The free meals continued until 9 p.m. Kossak said his restaurant seats about 240 people, with the average diner sticking around for approximately 45 minutes.
Thats a lot of people in and out, Kossak said, though he wouldnt even hazard a guess as to how many visitors eventually would come through his doors that evening. Family members of veterans and active duty personnel paid for their dinners, but Kossak still figured to give away at least 350 meals.
Every Golden Corral restaurant in the county gives away free dinners on Veterans Day. But Kossak noted there are five military bases within driving distance of his restaurant. He believes his is the only Golden Corral in the country thus situated.
In the end, Air Force veteran Ron Mahnke probably summed up nicely the thoughts of all the vets and other visitors in regard to the evening.
Its a good meal and I think its really wonderful that they do this, he said.

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