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In 2014, 100 WWII veterans were at this SLO luncheon. This year, there were 10

WWII veteran shares stories of the war at SLO County lunch honoring soldiers

LTJG Joseph E. Brocato, US Navy, hosted a lunch for 10 World War II veterans at the San Luis Obispo Country Club. Five officers who served after that war also attended. Thomas Coryell shares a story of his time on the USS Washington.
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LTJG Joseph E. Brocato, US Navy, hosted a lunch for 10 World War II veterans at the San Luis Obispo Country Club. Five officers who served after that war also attended. Thomas Coryell shares a story of his time on the USS Washington.

In 2014, More than 100 World War II veterans — soldiers, sailors and Marines — were honored in a luncheon in San Luis Obispo. That number at a similar event Thursday was closer to 10.

Joseph Brocato, who served in the Navy during the Cuban missile crisis and came up with the idea of regular luncheons to pay tribute to local military vets, said part of the challenge now is getting in touch with those who served more than 70 years after the war ended.

“I’ve managed to keep telephone numbers, email addresses, physical addresses,” Brocato said, adding that when a phone number comes up as disconnected, “You know what that means.”

Still, a small but vibrant band of WWII vets gathered Thursday to trade stories, catch up and eat lunch at the San Luis Obispo Country Club. Brocato said these get-togethers are always jocular affairs.

“Everybody likes to tease the Marines,” he said, for their “hard-charging” nature. “It’s all in fun. Everybody knows they all depended on each other (in the war).”

Take retired Navy Lt. Thomas Coryell.

The son of Navy Capt. Clyde W. Coryell, who commanded the Navy Seabees in France, Thomas Coryell served as gunnery officer on board the USS Washington during the Battle of Iwo Jima, where more than 6,800 U.S. servicemen were killed.

“We shouldn’t have been there,” Coryell said, describing how the ship unwittingly found itself in the fight.

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Thomas Coryell shows a photo of the USS Washington, the battleship he served on in the Pacific Theater during World War II. Coryell attended a luncheon Thursday honoring WWII veterans and other service members at the San Luis Obispo Country Club. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Once there, the Washington was tasked with providing cover fire for the U.S. combatants.

“I had the unenviable job of finding out how we could shoot on the island without hitting our Marines,” Coryell said. “We didn’t hit them.”

Coryell, who left the Navy in 1945, reflected on the toll the war placed on what would one day come to be called the Greatest Generation.

“Young men had to grow up in a hurry,” he said.

While Tuesday’s event was inspired by a series of luncheons honoring World War II, Korean War and Vietnam War vets in 2014, 2015 and 2016, successively, Brocato said the occasion was largely “spur of the moment.”

He said it’s important to take time to toast veterans while they are still here.

“It’s really a tangible expression of, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” he said of the luncheon.

Brocato expressed hopefulness that there would be more occasions to do so.

“I plan on having another one next year,” he said.

Andrew Sheeler: 805-781-7934, @andrewsheeler

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