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Article From Daily Record
RANDOLPH -- The Breakfast Club is a faithful circle of friends who are long-time regulars at Bagel Express on Route 10 West. Some have been coming here for almost two decades. Every morning there's friendly banter, good-natured discussion.
These companions are connected in a variety of ways. Some links have become apparent only over time.

Eula Pedrick has been a member for 13 years.

"We hang out here until around 10 a.m. every day. I'm 80 years old and have lived in Randolph for 54. Coming here every morning is a springboard. Many of us leave Bagel Express and do volunteer work for our community and church," she says. "Now I read at the elementary school, work at the high school, do fundraising."

Pedrick, who is named after her grandmother, says, "I'm a proud wife and mother of the township. My husband, my sons, and two grandsons are volunteer firemen. I used to come here with my husband until he passed four years ago. It's a daily tonic, a lifeline. We meet here early every morning. We smile, have a good laugh, enjoy rare conversation. Then we settle all the world's problems."Remarkable people This is a truly remarkable group of people, as are Bagel Express owners Simon Lee and Matilda Chan, who pamper their guests.

"We enjoy their company, we're all involved. It's wonderful for everyone," Chan says.

Andy Patten, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited (eastbound, immediately across Route 10 in College Plaza), confirms, "We discuss everything, not just politics. Life. During baseball season especially, it gets very spirited. There's a lot of energy here. Harold still goes dancing twice a week, every Wednesday and Sunday. His ballroom partners are sometimes 70 years his junior."

Harold Sherman, who once owned a dry-cleaning business, recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. A World War II Marine veteran, he was grievously wounded in the Battle of Cape Gloucester, which took place between December 1943 and April 1944 on the island of New Britain in the Pacific Theater of Operations. The battle was a major part of Operation Cartwheel, the main Allied strategy in the Pacific, and was the second World War II landing of the 1st Marine Division, after Guadalcanal.

Sherman was in both.

"The day after the battle on Guadalcanal, some GIs and Marines went back to do recon. They discovered my wallet on one of the enemy dead. I had left a small package with my wallet and ID in our reserve area, didn't take it with me (into the battle). The Japanese came across it after the attack and it was found on one of their bodies. The Marine Corps reported me dead, assuming the enemy had lifted it from my corpse."

That was Guadalcanal. Sherman's story continues in the Battle of Cape Gloucester.

"I was wounded, shot in the head, and they thought we were all dead," he says. "But a fellow Marine recognized signs of life and called for medics. I was one of the last wounded men to be put on board the medical truck."Almost left behind But there was no more room. Then an officer ordered a medic to make room.

"So they put me across the hood and took me to the aid station. They performed a field operation. I was unconscious for three days."

"But this is the part of the story you have to hear," says Gene Stracco. "Two years ago Harold's sitting in that chair and three strangers stop for coffee on their way home to Connecticut. One of them noticed Harold's World War II vet cap and they started to talk. When Harold told them about how he was wounded, one of the guys said, 'I was at Cape Gloucester. I was one of the medics who evacuated you.' Over 60 years later, these guys meet again. Unbelievable!"

Celeste and Gene Stracco are retired educators. "About a dozen of us have been coming here for years for coffee, breakfast, and conversation," Gene says. "There's nothing like it anywhere else, and I love to hear these guys' stories. They've lived it all."

Gene Stracco used to teach at Randolph High. "I loved those kids," he says. "I loved them because the kids were wonderful. Every one was great. There were no special classes, everyone was together. There was a ton of parent cooperation and participation. And it was much smaller then, not so competitive, without today's pressure to get into a good college. Not everybody had to go to college. Not everybody wanted to."

"The kids and teachers could really enjoy each other," agrees Celeste Stracco. "It was all farms then. We played horseshoes, ball, real community fun. It was a six-year high school with seventh and eighth grade, about 700 kids altogether."

Celeste Stracco does volunteer work: Interfaith Food Pantry and the Historical Society in Randolph, and at the high school to sign in visitors. She does tours at the Randolph Museum and bus tours of the township for third-graders. She's an officer of the Randolph High School Alumni Association.

Gene Stracco is a member of Kiwanis, and both are very active in the Randolph High School Hall of Fame Committee. "But Gene is most passionate about playing senior softball," says Celeste. What position? "Doesn't matter," she says.

Doris and Jim Bush have been part of The Breakfast Club for a dozen years. "In fact our daughter Sandra used to work here (at Bagel Express)," she says. Jim is from Minnesota. Doris was born in Randolph and recalls her childhood.

"Our house (at Shongum Lake) burned down and I remember my mother saying that house was so cold it would lift the linoleum right off the floor. My dad worked in the Clubhouse across from the lake. I often want to stop and see if anything remains."

Jim Bush was a manufacturing engineer at Lockheed Electronics in Plainfield, which closed at the end of '89, then owned a burglar and fire alarm company. Doris was a secretary and now does a lot of work at the Dover Soup Kitchen. "We were Dover High School sweethearts, married 55 years come March. Four kids, eight grandchildren."

Frank Monti, 87, is a retired mailman and for 14 years has been a part-time court officer in Randolph. "After 15 years, I still drive to Bagel Express most mornings." Also a World War II veteran, Monti served as a sergeant on the Western Front in the European Theater of Operations. "I was in England, and all over Europe."

Monti fought in the Battle of Ardennes (December 1944 to January 1945 in the forested region of Belgium, France and Luxembourg), more popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge.

"I was in the Army, in ordnance. We supplied the weapons. ... I was real young, put in a total of three years, five months, saw a lot of action -- I was lucky.

"On June 14, D plus eight (that is, eight days after D-Day, June 6, 1944), we crossed the Channel, landed at Normandy (Beach) and couldn't get close to shore. I was climbing down the side with all the other guys to get into the LCI (Landing Craft -- Infantry). The water was rough, and the boat was going one way and the ladder was going the other and then the platform didn't come down. I had to jump over the side into the LCI, and when that platform didn't come down I said, 'We're going back,' and the officer said, 'Like hell you are, jump!' Right into the water, chest-high waves. And I don't swim!

"I started coming here when my wife passed away. My daughter bought a house in Randolph, and I was visiting 15 years ago when a friend told me about Bagel Express and that Harold (Sherman) was here every day. I came running, too. He's a famous ballroom dancer now. But I don't dance," Monti says. "And I don't swim."

Sherman and Monti are both members of the senior citizens group at Resurrection Church. "Fifteen-year member on May 29," Monti says. "We have a dinner once a month, and every Tuesday there's a movie for seniors. Harold came one time and said he liked hot sausage. So I bought hot sausage for Harold, but when I put it out on the table, all the Wednesday people ate it and Harold got none. It's one of my fondest memories."

Monti was in the Battle of the Bulge until Christmas 1944, when Patton broke through. "Then he stole all our gas. When we had to leave, there was none left for us. But that's a story for another day," Monti says.

How can you pass up an invitation like that?

 
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