BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (WTVF) — In the middle of a store, known for buying in bulk, is a rare opportunity. Every Friday at 11 a.m., over cold drinks and hot dogs, is a chance to hear a warehouse worth of war stories.
The veterans support group first invaded with a more modest armada. Two men were having lunch when retired Army veteran Tom Meredith walked by. "A general yelled at me and said, 'hey are you a veteran?' And I said 'yea.' 'Of what?' 'Well, I was in the Army in Vietnam.' He said, 'oh hell, sit down,'" said Meredith.
What started as three men has turned into an occupying force for the last 22 years at the Brentwood Costco. "Little by little, we ended up with what you see now," said Paul Napoli, a retired Marine.
"I really enjoy coming over here and seeing all the people and seeing where they all came from, and what they did and talking to them," said Ed Smith, a retired Navy and Air Force service member.
The weekly meeting gives veterans like Smith the chance to relish and embellish. "Hearing some of the bullsh--t that all of these guys tell you about what they did," Smith said with a smile.
But don't be mistaken, this isn't an old man's club. "I said, 'well I’m going to approach these old guys because I’m one of them,'" said Hilary Stapleton, an Army veteran. She was the first female member to join, but isn't the last.
"We understand each other. We have a common bond. I don’t think any fraternity or sorority has what this group has got," said Stapleton.
All branches at all levels are represented. "He’s a general, I’m a PFC and we don’t pull rank on each other," said Bob Ranallo, an Army veteran.
"We can joke and kid each other here and you know where it’s coming from," said Retired Maj. Gen. Carl Schnider of the Air Force.
But while you have to be a veteran to get their official shirt, any person of any age can participate. "You look like a veteran to me, that’s right," said Leo Varrius, an 8-year-old boy who walked up to the group. "I just really like what they did for us, I really like it."
Leo happened to be walking by with his mom when he couldn't resist a closer inspection. "This looks like a battleship, it looks like," said Leo, outlining with his finger a serviceman's hat. "Well it had airplanes on it," the veteran replied.
That's the beauty of these meetings being held inside a busy store. If you ever want to hear another story, you always know where to find them.
"Nice meeting you all, veterans. Nice meeting you," said Leo.
Most Fridays, generous companies and Costco shoppers offer to pay for all of the veterans' meals as a way to say — thank you for your service.