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Coffee and donuts are a big lure, and the Coffee with a Vet program knows this well.

Coffee with a Vet, run by the Veterans History Project at the Sedona Public Library, is a gathering where veterans from any era can get caught up with local affairs, listen in on presentations and socialize.

The public is welcome and the last one, held Friday, Oct. 16, showed just how popular the program has become. What started out with a handful of veterans is now a packed room.

Jolene Pierson, who heads up the Veterans History Project, said she has been excited to see the program grow. Along with the meeting, the program’s interview initiative has continued healthily. She encourages anyone who was in the military or an industry that supported a military effort to contact her to have his or her story recorded.

“I’ve interviewed some real interesting gals who worked at aircraft factories. I interviewed an aircraft designer .... Those kinds of people are included as well and we want to make sure they don’t get left out,” Pierson said.

Contact Pierson at 282-7999 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

One of the regulars at the meetings is Daniel Aragaki. He said he learned about the program one day while stopping at the library. After giving his own story to the project, he decided to volunteer, learning to operate the camera used to record each interview.

“It’s very interesting. We interview all sorts of veterans. Also, nurses and people like Rosie the Riveters,” Aragaki said. “The goal is to interview all veterans that were in a conflict living in the Verde Valley.”

Aragaki has been attending the coffee meetings since the beginning.

“About a year ago, maybe a little longer, Jolene [Pierson] brought up the idea of Coffee with a Vet. When it started out we had maybe 10 to 15 people and it’s been steadily growing since then,” Aragaki said.

Aragaki is a veteran of the Vietnam War and served in the Alpha Company, Third Battalion, Seventh Infantry from 1967-68. He said he served in a strict unit — his commanding officer kept his soldiers clean shaven and neat. It was a discipline that helped keep the troops sharp.

“Our company commander was very wise. He always looked after his men,” Aragaki said.

He explained his tour as “52 weeks of backpacking.”

“Of course there are other things to it. As one friend says, ‘It’s sheer boredom with a great adrenaline rush,’” he said.

Many Vietnam veterans were not welcomed warmly upon their return, with anti-war frustration fueling cruel hazing. Fortunately, Aragaki said, his return was not like that.

“My experience was good. When I came back, we were brought back to Travis Air Force Base, so being an Air Force base, there were no civilians,” he said. “I had a friend who served in Vietnam who I went to high school with. The second day I was home I went and saw him. He said, ‘I want to tell you two things. Number one: Nobody gives a [expletive] about what you did. And number two, I’m going to buy you dinner.’”

Aragaki said the Verde Valley has been a good place for veterans to be respected for their service and sacrifice.

“When the Vietnam Wall came to Cottonwood, a group of bikers gathered to escort the wall from Camp Verde to Cottonwood. And all along State Route 260, there were people lined up waving flags and clapping as we went by,” he said.

Fred Piper is another veteran who is a regular at Coffee with a Vet. By his count, he is the last living Sedona native to have served in World War II.

Piper was drafted in 1943, “but I didn’t run from it.”

The next Coffee with a Vet will be on Friday, Nov. 20, from 10 a.m. to noon at the library.

To read the full story, see the Wednesday, Oct. 21, edition of the Sedona Red Rock News.

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