For five years, Fort Worth businessman Kevin Boldt has pursued the ambitious task of identifying every Tarrant County service member who was killed in World War II and is buried in a local cemetery.
But while it’s important to honor the war dead, Boldt also wanted to do something for those veterans still alive. So every month for nearly three years, he has bought lunch for a countless number of old veterans.
What started out as an invitation to four vets he chaperoned on an Honor Flight from Dallas-Fort Worth to Washington, D.C., has grown to a roster of more than 100. On average, 60 show up every month; the oldest veteran attending is 101, he said.
“After you get back from an Honor Flight, you don’t get to see the veterans anymore,” Boldt said. Honor Flights is a nonprofit that brings World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to see the World War II Memorial.
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Boldt didn’t want that to happen, so he asked the veterans whether they attended any sort of organized monthly meeting. When they told him they didn’t, Boldt asked if they would come to a luncheon if he organized one. Fifteen veterans showed up at the Golden Corral in west Fort Worth for the first luncheon in June 2014.
Joe Simpson, 95, of Fort Worth, who served in the Army from 1944 to 1946 and earned the Bronze Star, was one of the four with Boldt on the Honor Flight and has been attending the luncheons since.
Being among other veterans allows the men to talk about their experiences and learn how others dealt with them, Simpson said. Over the decades, Simpson said, he’s been writing down his stories, rather than talking about them. Since the luncheon group began, he said, he has spoken at three schools about the war.
Let’s get all the World War II vets we can together.
Joe Simpson, 95, World War II veteran
“For a long time, I never talked about it,” Simpson said. When he and Boldt talked about forming a luncheon group, Simpson said he told Boldt, “Let’s get all the World War II vets we can together.”
The following month, 24 veterans showed up and the gathering has grown ever since, Boldt said. The group moved to a larger restaurant and, last April, moved again to a room at Birchman Baptist Church, 9100 N. Normandale St. The luncheons are held on the last Friday of every month. For a time, food was catered, but now the church’s caterer and two other volunteers make the food. It runs about $10 a person, Boldt said.
Some are able to come every month, some come when they can. It depends how they feel that day.
Kevin Boldt, Fort Worth businessman who buys WW II vets lunch
“Some are able to come every month, some come when they can. It depends how they feel that day,” said Boldt, who owns Village Creek Nursing Home and is a 1978 O.D. Wyatt High School graduate.
Boldt, 57, cites a long, abiding love for World War II vets for his gesture, even though he had no close relatives serve in the war. Boldt served as a medic in the Army reserves from 1980 to 1986.
In about 2009, he began researching names on headstones of soldiers killed in the war at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth. That has since expanded to other area cemeteries and other wars. In Mount Olivet alone, he has identified four World War I, 154 World War II soldiers, 15 Korean War and 24 Vietnam War members of the armed forced killed in action, and one each from the Afghanistan, Persian Gulf and Iraq wars.
He said his mission is to research and publish a book on the 22,022 Texans killed in World War II, he said.
“I love history, especially early American, military and presidential history,” Boldt said. “My two passions are the Civil War, but also World War II. I love talking to the World War II vets.”
Lee Wreyford, 90, of Weatherford, who served in the Navy from 1944 to 1945, started with the group at the second luncheon.
It’s the camaraderie. I meet people who had experienced I had, some of them near death experiences. We relate to each other.
Lee Wreyford, 90, World War II veteran
“I never talked about this for 65 years,” Wreyford said, holding a thick folder with information about his job on an LCP, a landing craft that carried troops to invasion beaches, and the battles he saw in the Philippines and Japan. “It’s the camaraderie. I meet people who had experiences I had, some of them near-death experiences. We relate to each other.”
The luncheons have a program, but most times it’s the veterans talking about their experiences. One month Boldt featured three women veterans who have joined the group, and at another, it was veterans who lost brothers in the war. This month, two who fought in the Battle of Iwo Jima will talk.
“The program consists of different things. Sometimes I’ll have a special speaker come in. Most of the times I’ll have an emphasis on the veterans themselves so they can share their stories,” Boldt said.
Some civic organizations and some of the veterans themselves have started chipping in to help defray costs, Boldt said. To accept the donations, Boldt created the nonprofit Roll Call. Those wanting to attend can contact Boldt at firstname.lastname@example.org.