Seattle’s least-formal gathering among most anticipated for hundreds of veterans

Nov 10, 2016, 9:30 AM | Updated: 9:36 am
Veterans will gather at Roanoke on Mercer Island on Friday. (AP)...
Veterans will gather at Roanoke on Mercer Island on Friday. (AP)

There’ll be plenty of official events to honor our nation’s veterans on Friday. But for dozens of local vets, none is more anticipated every year than the least formal gathering that draws those who served and many others from all over.

While some vets do all they can to forget the past, John Naye isn’t one of them.

The Mercer Island businessman flew A-6 Intruders during the Vietnam war, logging over 150 missions during two tours of duty.

“Those days, in spite of the fact they were very uncertain, those were really some phenomenal times for us … what a unique crucible we were in,” Naye said.

The biggest impact on his and many others lives was the relationships they formed under fire.

“We all sort of stay in touch, doing nothing spectacular, just staying in touch and trying to remain relevant to ourselves,” he said.

One way they do that is getting together every Veteran’s Day, digging out their old flight jackets or fatigues, tipping back a few beverages.

They call it the Eleven-Eleven Society.  There are no honor guards or big patriotic displays, just a lot of camaraderie and a healthy amount of BS.  Anyone is welcome.

“You have to have been a veteran, slept with a veteran, or just want to sleep with a veteran, or just ignore the rules,” Naye laughed.

So he doesn’t know who or how many people will show up Friday at the Roanoke, a venerable old tavern on the north end of Mercer Island. They’ve had as many as 150 in the past.

“And there’s no agenda.  No one gives a speech.  No one has a cause, we don’t raise money…this, in a way, became our fraternity.”

But they make sure that fraternity is all-inclusive.  Once he sends out the invite, anyone can forward it wherever they want.

“You send  it wherever you think it needs to go,” Naye said.  “We’ll have an occasional Coast Guard guy or merchant marine, a member of the distinguished flying cross or an ex-POW.  It just expands.”

He hopes it continues to do so, especially reaching those vets struggling to find their way in the civilian world.

“A couple of years ago, we had a guy literally who had just come back from Iraq, like the week before,” Naye said. “Because all of the old guys want to talk to them.”

This year’s meeting of the Eleven-Eleven Society convenes around 1630 hours Friday – that’s 4:30 for us civilians. It’ll go until the last man or woman is standing, which Naye admits tends to be a lot earlier than in years past.

“It’s not important that we’re covered in the newspaper … it’s not important to me that it’s on the radio or television because that’s really irrelevant.  We’re just doing this.  And whoever shows up, please come because we’re delighted to have you there,” Naye said.

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Seattle’s least-formal gathering among most anticipated for hundreds of veterans