Thursday, September 20, 2001

Kentucky Politics

At veterans' club, a call to action

        BELLEVUE — It was getting well into the evening on a busy night at the bar in the Bellevue Vets club.

        On a typical night the club's two televisions — one hanging behind the bar, the other a big screen in the corner — would be tuned to a baseball game, the din of the customers drowning out the words of an announcer nobody really wants to hear anyway.

        Yet baseball isn't on. Instead, it appears the patrons are watching an action movie where a jetliner slams into one of the stunning towers of New York's World Trade Center.

        It wasn't, of course, a movie. It was horrific and real, a tragedy that even Hollywood couldn't dream up, an act of mass murder that could launch this country into a war.

        Just about 8:30 p.m. last Tuesday night President George W. Bush appears on the TV and the crowd falls quiet. After his brief speech to a scared and sad nation, the 30 or so people in the bar break into applause and tears.

        “Damn good speech,” proclaimed George Kraemer, 84, a World War II veteran. “People expect to hear from their president at a time like this. Now it's time to go out and get whoever did this. Now is the time for some action.”

        For Jerry Schnelle, 68, a Korean War veteran and former Bellevue City councilman, Tuesday's attack was “worse than Pearl Harbor when you think of how many people have probably died.”

        “We have to go out and find who did this,” he said between drinks of his draft beer. “Something has got to be done.”

        No phony, flag-waving patriotism here. These guys are the real deal, what TV news anchor Tom Brokaw calls The Greatest Generation in his best-selling book of the same title.

        They are men such as Mr. Kraemer and Mr. Schnelle and the other WWII vets who happened by the bar that night, among them Al Rouse, 78, of Fort Thomas, and Joe Linkugel, 74, of Bellevue.

        They went off to fight wars when they were practically kids, came back and built the greatest country in the world, one family and one community at a time.

        Take the Bellevue Vets. It has the comfortable feel of a neighborhood bar where, as the song to TV show Cheers says, “everybody knows your name.” But it's also a gathering place for war veterans and community members who run sports programs that have served thousands of local youths since the place was started after World War II.

        Take Sept. 29, when the Vets will hold a “Chicken Fry and & Horseshoe Tournament”. According to a flier in the bar, for $12 you get beer and “the best fried chicken you'll ever eat.” For another $3, you can pitch shoes and all the money goes to the youth baseball program.

        Beer, horseshoes, fried chicken, baseball. Is that America or what?

        Is it worth fighting for? You bet it is, just as it was for Mr. Kraemer more than 50 years ago.

        “You have to defend what we have here,” he said. “We did it then after we were attacked. We have to do it now. We like to have a good time in America. We like to have a good time here at the Vets.

        “But try to mess with that,” he said, “and we'll show you what we're made of.”

        Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics. He can be reached at (859) 578-5581, or by e-mail at


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