Advertisement
  1. Military

For Memorial Day, Breakfast Station wall pays tribute to those who served

Yvonne Benjamin thought up the Wall of Honor at the Breakfast Station, where she has served “lots of veterans.”
Yvonne Benjamin thought up the Wall of Honor at the Breakfast Station, where she has served “lots of veterans.”
Published May 24, 2017

BROOKSVILLE

"I remember that day they came," Yvonne Benjamin recalled solemnly of a morning in April 1969.

She and her best friend, Polly Oliver, were going about their studies in a fifth-grade classroom in Willsboro, N.Y., while U.S. service men and women were fighting and dying in far-off Vietnam.

The visitors were a man in military uniform and the school principal, as best Benjamin remembers.

The girls' days after that would never be the same.

"It was the first time I ever knew of anybody who was lost," Benjamin said recently. "It stayed with me."

The men had come to escort Polly home to her grieving family. Polly's older brother, Marine Pfc. Bernard Oliver Jr., had been killed.

Today, Bernard Oliver Jr. is memorialized on a Wall of Honor, bearing personalized miniature U.S. flags, at the Breakfast Station in South Plaza on S Broad Street. The project is Benjamin's brainchild at the breakfast-and-lunch restaurant, where she has waited tables — and met and served "lots and lots" of veterans — over the past six years.

Oliver's memorial flag, 3 1/2 by 5 inches, is among 200 — and counting — that customers have inscribed since May 10. Penned on Oliver's flag are his days of life, 5-25-1950 to 4-21-1969, also his honors: Purple Heart, Vietnam Defense medal, Combat Action ribbon.

Benjamin, the self-appointed decorator at the restaurant, was taking down Easter celebratories when she mused over what she might extol ornamentally between Easter and Halloween. "I thought, hey, Memorial Day, July 4."

Wheels clicking beyond bunting and bicentennials, the military came to mind. "I just brainstormed it," said Benjamin, 58. "If money comes in, who to donate to? It all came to me."

"There is no price for the flags," Benjamin hastened to say.

From a bunch of the miniature pennants on a counter above the wall, patrons are invited to take a flag, inscribe "whatever they want for someone who's served their country and are no longer with us," and have it attached to the wall. "It's for Memorial Day, so it's for the deceased," Benjamin explained. "They don't have to have died in battle."

She's already envisioning another memorial wall for deceased veterans on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

The blaze of red white and blue bedazzles. The verbiage and stories behind them tear the eyes.

In memory of all I served with in Korean War that are no longer here.

+ all that have served in the past & present.

… 35 1/2 Y.O.S.

Rest in peace.

Benjamin pointed to a flag bearing three names: Richard, Aaron, Michael Mousaw.

"A man came in and said he had three brothers in World War II, all stationed at different places. None of them came back."

In another instance, a woman overheard Benjamin explaining the project at a nearby booth. The woman chose a flag, telling Benjamin, "My son died 20 years ago, and I still cry. Thank you."

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines

Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter

We’ll deliver the latest news and information you need to know every weekday morning.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

The top center spot on the wall pays tribute to Breakfast Station founder James K. Singer, Air Force veteran of the Korean conflict, 5-5-1935 to 6-2-2010. Singer opened the first Breakfast Station in 1995 along U.S. 19 in Port Richey. The chain has grown to 12 throughout Central Florida.

Money is coming in via the wall. A donation jar, close by the vase of flags, collected more than $400 in less than a week.

Benjamin plans to pack goodie boxes for current enlistees serving overseas who have expressed wants on Internet military listings. From donations, she will buy playing cards, small board games, Breakfast Station ball caps, flavored drink mixes, "hot sauce in packets because the food is so bland" and other items. She has enlisted the U.S. Postal Service to provide packaging materials for free.

Brooksville Breakfast Station managers Randy Hernandez and Chris Zahring endorsed Benjamin's Wall of Honor project, with concurrence by franchise owner Brian Nelson, who also owns the branded restaurants in Spring Hill, Homosassa, Crystal River and Beverly Hills.

Said Hernandez: "If (the Wall of Honor) goes good, if we get some attention for it and raise some money, we'll expand it to all the Breakfast Stations." Others are in Port Richey, New Port Richey, Zephyrhills, Seminole, Leesburg, Dunnellon and Crawfordville.

Back at the Brooksville restaurant, Benjamin said she doesn't come from a military family.

"I'm sure I had uncles who served, but I don't have any who were killed in a war," she said.

No matter. Any veteran, regardless of situation, deserves honor, she believes.

And Polly Oliver? She grew up and enlisted in the military.

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.