Veterans of the 6th Bomb Group dropped in on the Owl Bar Café & Steakhouse on Friday, Oct. 30, but it was the world famous green chile cheeseburgers and hospitality they received that scored a direct hit.
“This is wonderful; it was totally unexpected,” said Richard Sidders of Fullerton, Calif., one of about 35 World War II veterans fresh off a visit to the nearby Trinity Site, where the first test of the atomic bomb was detonated in 1945.
“Thank you,” another veteran told Rowena Baca, the Owl Bar’s owner, as he headed out the door of the San Antonio, N.M., restaurant. “It was great. Thank you very much.”
The reception was spectacular. The west banquet room was decorated with red, white and blue ribbons, miniature U.S. flags and banners, one of which read, “We’re free because of you!”
Rep. Don Tripp was there to welcome the veterans and went around the room to shake hands with each one. He and Peter Romero, a Socorro city councilor and commander of the local Disabled American Veterans chapter, pitched in to help the café’s busy wait staff serve slices of cake.
The Rev. Doug May delivered the pre-meal prayer and thanked the veterans for their commitment to their country.
Decked out in his police chaplain uniform, the Rev. Bob Farmer, of First Baptist Church, was also on duty to welcome the visitors and lend a helping hand in feeding them.
It was a big deal — and an equally big meal. In all, 65 people crammed the banquet room for the lunch.
“We’ve been planning this for three months; it didn’t mushroom until today,” said Baca, not intending the irony of the remark.
The 6th Bomb Group holds a reunion every 18 months, or so. This time, Las Cruces was the host city, following conventions in Midland, Texas, and Washington, D.C., in preceding years.
Although the Trinity Site is open to the public for just two days each year, the 6th Bomb Group was granted an exception and allowed a tour because of the role it played in the bombing mission targeting Hiroshima that helped bring an end to World War II, in August 1945. Nine days after the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima — which killed an estimated 1,400 people in the process — and six days after another atomic blast, the Japanese surrendered to Allied forces.
Sidders said the visit to the Trinity Site, roughly 20 miles away from the Owl Bar as the bird flies, helped complete his thinking about the bomb that had such a devastating impact on not just Japan, but the world at large.
“The atomic bomb helped us get home earlier,” Sidders said. “I don’t like the bomb, but we had to have it. If not, one of our enemies would have.”
Bill Webster, of Frontenac, Minn., said the trip to Trinity made a big impression.
“It was breathtaking in a sense, because of our involvement with dropping the atomic bomb. One of the reasons they allowed us to visit Trinity is because the B-29 that flew over Hiroshima had the 6th Bomb Group signature,” he said, and added that it was bombers from the 509th Composite Group that executed the raid.
Webster said the 6th Bomb Group’s 3,000 members received training in Grand Island, Neb., in December 1944, before being shipped to Tinian Island. The group ran bombing raids over Japan from the island and had a hand in the mission that brought a decisive end to the war.
The 84-year-old Webster, who was accompanied by his son, Kip, said it was important that future generations understood the ramifications of the atomic bomb and the implications of a nuclear war.
That same message was spoken eloquently by John Creek — one of the reunion’s organizers and a son of a 6th Bomb Group veteran who died several years ago — during his remarks to the gathering in the café’s banquet room before lunch was served.
“I finally understand what my dad participated in, and my purpose in doing this is to get my generation involved in honoring and respecting these gentlemen and get the next generation to do the same,” said Creek. “The real reward in doing this is to truly understand what was happening in the 1940s and what brought it to an end with the abrupt statement: Let’s not do it again.”
A resident of Alto, Creek knew of the Owl Bar’s proximity to the Trinity Site and was familiar with its reputation for serving delicious green chile cheeseburgers. So he didn’t have to think too hard about where the group could stop for lunch after its tour of the Trinity Site. He contacted Baca last summer and designed plans for the group to eat at the Owl Bar Café & Steakhouse.
But Creek and the reunion’s other organizers dropped a bombshell on Baca when registrations for the convention in Las Cruces exceeded expectations.
“When we first talked (Creek) said, ‘Can you serve 25 people?’ and to me, that’s a cinch,” Baca said. “Then it was supposed to be 35 to 45, but on Monday they called and said it would be 64. I think it ended up being 65.”
Baca scrambled a squadron of helpers to pull it off.
“The girls really helped me and all my friends,” she said, adding that Tripp and Romero, May and Farmer, County Commissioner Juan Gutierrez and the Socorro County Chamber of Commerce, which provided each visitor a gift bag, also helped successfully complete the mission.
“It was a success, for sure,” Baca said. “Anytime you have people who don’t want to leave, you know it was successful.”
Although the service was swift, the 6th Bomb Group stayed nearly 1-1/2 hours, some lingered to learn a little about the town of San Antonio’s ties to Conrad Hilton and to pick up an “I â™¥ the Owl Bar and Café” bumper sticker.
Finally, it was back on the bus for the trip back to Las Cruces, stomachs full from a meal that had really hit the spot.