By Julie Huss
---- — DERRY — They are buddies through and through.
Derry veterans Herb Billingley and Jim Bilotta have a lot of stories to tell. Billingsley, 88, is a World War II Navy veteran. He served aboard the USS Walke, serving in several campaigns in the South Pacific and eventually heading to Europe for the invasion of Normandy at Utah Beach.
World War II Marine veteran Bilotta, 93, survived Pearl Harbor that fateful day in December 1941.
Last week, it was time for those two men and others to take center stage and be honored for their service.
The two men were among dozens of area veterans invited to a special dinner and recognition night on May 30, hosted jointly by the Derry Rotary and Derry Village Rotary Clubs.
The two local clubs have teamed up for several years to honor veterans and to show appreciation for their service.
Veterans representing all conflicts — from World War II up to those serving in the most recent wars including Iraq and Afghanistan — made the guest list at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Derry. The night included dinner, friendship and special gifts.
It was mostly about friendship.
Army veteran Tony Bruno proudly wore a bright red poppy on his shirt. He served in Vietnam and said he appreciated all the other veterans accomplished.
“There are a lot of good vets here,” Bruno said.
Henry Thibault served in the Navy in the early 1960s. He said he didn’t serve overseas and was humbled by what others did, mostly those who had to go into Vietnam or those that didn’t come home.
“Most did more than me,” he said.
Bilotta’s memory is sharp.
“I joined the Marines when I was 19,” he said. “I was right out of high school.”
He was the only Pearl Harbor survivor in attendance. He received a standing ovation for his service.
Billingsley not only served his country, but also his community.
Vietnam veteran and Derry town historian Richard Holmes insisted on calling Billinglsey the “coach” as the World War II vet was coach of the Derry Little League the final time the town team won the state championship in 1959. That’s another honor to be proud of, Holmes said, in addition to the military years.
Holmes shared a table with veterans from the Korean War.
“We were both from forgotten wars,” Holmes said. “When we came home, there weren’t any parades. It’s nice to be thanked now. We appreciate it.”
U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., was the guest speaker. She said she was honored to share time with the veterans and appreciated all they did for the country. She included families and friends who stay behind.
“Our men and women can’t serve and do what we ask of them without the support they get at home,” she said. “When you serve, your loved ones also serve.”