Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Over plates of fried catfish and spicy gumbo Friday, Sal Orozpe and Aubrey Griffin talked about their days working together in information management at Randolph and Lackland Air Force bases.
It was their twice-a-year meetup with former civil service co-worker Sandra Parker, a tradition the veterans have kept for the past three years, annually around Veterans Day and Memorial Day.
That the Rivard Report met Orozpe and Griffin at their favorite spot, Acadiana Café, on this afternoon was no happenstance.
Saturday is Veterans Day, the anniversary of the signing of the 1918 armistice that ended World War I. And if you wanted to find a veteran to thank in San Antonio, this was the place to be.
Acadiana Café is a 31-year-old Cajun-style family eatery owned by Dave Saylor. Famous for its Southern cooking, the restaurant sits just north of a part of Military City USA that is home to a large concentration of post-Gulf War and other veterans.
An American Community Survey from 2015 found that there were 1,448 of these contemporary veterans living in the 78245 zip code on San Antonio's far Westside. Additionally, 1,148 Vietnam vets were making their home in that zip code, where educational attainment levels also tend to be high. The location puts veterans near the training base known since 1941 as Lackland and near the jobs, hospital, and services there. It also puts them near one another.
Click on the map below to see what areas in San Antonio veterans of each era choose to call home, and the characteristics of each.
A 24-year veteran of the Air Force, Orozpe retired at Randolph in 2008 and now works in civil service there as a mail manager. He served on active duty during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003.
Like many veterans, Orozpe wasn’t born in San Antonio. His hometown is Mason, in the Texas Hill Country. But after his military retirement, he bought a home near SeaWorld San Antonio because of its proximity to the University of Texas at San Antonio for his sons to attend college, and also to live close to Lackland, where he expected to be working.
“And we just loved the area,” he said.
For Griffin, choosing in 1979 to buy a brand-new home in the Sky Harbor neighborhood in the far northwest part of town was about living the near the base, because his wife did not drive at the time. After retiring in 2009, he never considered returning to his home state of Oklahoma. “There wasn’t anything for me in Tulsa,” he said.
Asked about his military career, he responded: “Which one?” Griffin began serving in the Air Force in 1964, served during the Vietnam War, then retired from the military in 1984 and went to work in civil service for another 24 years.
Life for a veteran in this part of San Antonio is a life of camaraderie.
“Yeah, because we have that relationship," Orozpe said. "We understand what you went through during military service." Earlier that morning, he had attended a Veterans Day celebration at his granddaughter’s school and enjoyed breakfast with 30 other veterans there, he said, including those who served in Korea and World War II.
“And they’re leaving us,” Griffin said with a palpable sense of resignation and respect in his voice.
At another table in the restaurant, veterans CW and Amber Steele sat down with their sleeping 6-week-old son, Chamber. They came for lunch Friday after hitting the Lackland Base Exchange for some money-saving Veterans Day sales.
“It was madness,” they said of the crowds and traffic on base due to the holiday and a basic military training graduation there this weekend. The couple makes a trip to the base for medical appointments or shopping about once a week.
Amber is a two-year Air Force veteran who served after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and now works as a lab technician at the Audie L. Murphy Memorial VA Hospital.
CW left the Army in 2011, then joined the Army Reserve and now works full-time for the Bexar County Sheriff's Office. The son of a career Air Force veteran and born in Okinawa, CW served during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2014.
He proudly shows photos and video on his phone of the year he spent in Afghanistan at a “blackout base,” so close to the enemy that lights couldn't be used at night, saying it makes him feel thankful to be here. “On Mother’s Day, we were attacked 19 times,” he said.
CW and Amber, who each have two older children, had Chamber on Sept. 28 at Brooke Army Medical Center. He was born a year after they had purchased a new two-story home in The Overlook at Medio Creek off Marbach Road.
Amber grew up in Tyler, Texas, and previously lived on the Eastside of San Antonio. The couple relocated to live near CW’s parents, plus “better schools and less crime,” she said. Her new subdivision, she said, is populated by “mostly cops and vets.”
On Veterans Day, CW will spend the day as he often does on weekends – coaching a son’s basketball team – and on Sunday, they plan to take the family out for a day at Six Flags Fiesta Texas.