CLINTON — For five hours Monday, local veterans had the chance to have a free breakfast and share their stories with each other at Clinton’s Hy-Vee store.

Starting at 6 a.m., veterans settled into tables in one of Clinton Hy-Vee’s entrance areas, with employees and volunteers from Nelson Corp and Sedona Staffing ready to greet them and set the veterans up with a free breakfast, all the while thanking them for their service.

Nearby sat brothers and best friends, who ribbed each other about their branches of service and shared stories from the past.

Among them were Dave Donovan and Harold McClure, who grew up near each other in the Circle Drive and College Avenue area of Clinton. They became friends when McClure’s dad signed up to take the Clinton Herald when Donovan, the paper boy, was in his early teen years

They became fast friends, and after high school graduation – McClure from Clinton High School in 1963 and Donovan from St. Mary’s in 1964 – enlisted in the Air Force together in 1966.

“At that time they called it the buddy system,” McClure said.

“I didn’t want to be in the Army and be a groundpounder, and I didn’t want to be a Marine, and I didn’t want to be in the Navy, because I didn’t want to be on a ship,” McClure said of their decision to go into the Air Force. “The Air Force was left... I can fly in a plane.”

After six weeks of basic training in Texas, McClure was sent to Portsmouth, New Hampshire for two years, then to Vietnam for a year, then to Florida. He became a sergeant and worked in security.

Donovan stayed in Texas for six months for schooling, then went to Okinawa. He ended up finishing his military service in Illinois, attaining the rank of staff sergeant and operating a water plant. He met his wife, Billie, in Champaign, Illinois, while she was in nursing school and he was in the Air Force.

Throughout their time in the military, Donovan and McClure would write letters, only seeing each other once during their four years of service.

“He would come home on leave and take off,” Donovan said.”Then I would come home. We couldn’t hook up.”

It was when McClure was returning from Vietnam that the two were able to see each other again.

“When I came home from Vietnam, he picked me up at the airport,” McClure said of Donovan.

They both ended up back in Clinton in October 1970, after leaving the military. McClure, who worked for DuPont before he went into the service, went back to work there after he returned home. He was employed at DuPont for 41 years and worked in operations, and then in mechanical the last 20 years.

Donovan worked at Chemplex, now LyondellBasell, for 40 years and has been retired for 10 years.

Donovan still lives in Clinton, and he and Billie remain great friends with McClure and his wife, Pat, who now live in Camanche.

Seated next to Donovan and McClure were Gene Field of Fulton, Illinois and his brother, Jim, both Navy veterans. Gene is 90 and served from January 1951 to November 1954 during the Korean War. Jim, who is 99 and renewed his driver’s license just last week, was in World War II and was in the first wave of the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

After military service, Jim went on to buy and sell businesses. Based in New York City and later living in Belgium, he traveled the world before moving back to Fulton in 1997.

Gene worked as a salesman and then bought a tavern and restaurant, named Gene’s, which he operated from 1969 to 1995. He now is a Fulton city alderman.

The four are grateful for Monday’s annual Veterans Day event at Hy-Vee, a place where they can share camaraderie and some laughs.

“They do a good job,” Donovan said.