|By Scott Farwell, The Dallas Morning
NewsMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
October 15, 2010 --Jay Coberly has faced many indignities in his 93 years.
He bounced off the roof of a barn and landed in a pig pen after his plane was shot down over Schweinfurt, Germany, in 1943. He lost 30 pounds during two years as a POW at Stalag Luft III, the camp depicted in the movie The Great Escape. He's dug through trash for food, eaten barley soup with his hands and slept in ankle-deep cow manure.
So Coberly couldn't help but laugh this week when a hostess at Wolfgang Puck's Five Sixty restaurant told him and five other war veterans they didn't look good enough to visit the high-end downtown Dallas eatery -- a rotating dining room atop Reunion Tower, 560 feet above the city.
She said the men's unit baseball caps, POW T-shirts and shorts did not meet the restaurant's "business casual" dress code.
"I figure if I spent two years in a POW camp, I could have handled the privilege of sitting in that fancy restaurant a few minutes," said Coberly, a member of the Second Schweinfurt Memorial Association and a bombardier with the decorated 8th Army Air Force, known as the Mighty 8th.
Coberly chuckled at the woman's prim-and-proper approach.
"We weren't dressed like hobos. We were just dressed comfortably," said Coberly, a graduate of the Wharton School of business and a retired hospital administrator from Maryland.
"We've been all over the country, and we've never had this kind of problem. Dallas must be a first-class town."
The six veterans -- most in their late 80s or early 90s -- took the rejection in stride as they shuffled back to their tour bus Tuesday. One cracked, "We're still troublemakers." Another said, "Just call us the dirty dozen."
But the men's wives and children didn't take the snub so lightly.
They confronted the hostess, reminding her of the military men's service and sacrifice.
"Do you realize these veterans fought for your freedom and your way of life and you can't see your way clear to let them up to get a view of the city?" said Michelle Northrop, Coberly's daughter. "I mean, we weren't going to be there longer than 45 minutes."
Northrop said the woman was polite but firm.
"My honest opinion is she was too young to be able to think on her feet," said Northrop. "She was doing her job, she was professionally dressed and she was not being obnoxious. She was trained well, but this was not an empowered young woman. I'm not sure it ever occurred to her to say, 'Let me go talk to my manager.' "
If she had, the veterans would have been admitted to the restaurant without question, said Stephanie Davis, director of communications for the Wolfgang Puck Fine Dining Group.
Everyone involved agreed the hostess made a mistake. What's in dispute is whether the men identified themselves as veterans.
"If they had explained who they were and what they were doing, it would not have happened," she said. "It was a mistake and we're apologetic."
The restaurant's general manager, Marcus Cascio, sent the group two bottles of Scotch, a written apology and an invitation to return to the restaurant.
Even Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert got into the action.
He sent each man a letter that concluded, "Again, welcome to Dallas. I'm sure you will enjoy our Southern hospitality."
The veterans were also given a gold-colored lapel pin with the city of Dallas seal, said Chris Heinbaugh, the mayor's chief of staff. "They can add it to their hats," he said.
Some see restaurant-enforced dress codes as an out-of-date and out-of-place requirement in a world where some blue jeans cost as much as a casual suit.
But Jim Donohue, maitre d' of the French Room at the Adolphus hotel, said most of his guests enjoy standards of dress being enforced at the door -- jackets, no jeans.
Even so, if a group of World War II veterans walked in, he'd make an exception.
"We would make it happen," Donohue said. "I would not turn away these guys, press coverage or no press."
Rules can always be bent, he said, especially for those who've earned the accommodation.
Sixty-seven years ago this week, nearly 300 men took off in B-17s for a bombing run deep into German territory on a mission to destroy a ball-bearing factory. When they arrived at the target, they were greeted with a blanket of rocket and artillery fire. Sixty bombers and 600 airmen died. Many of those who survived were captured by the Germans.
Each side suffered heavy losses, and Oct. 14, 1943, became known as "Black Thursday," one of the most infamous air battles of World War II.
Surviving members of the group meet each year in a different city around the U.S. This was their first visit to Dallas. Most of the men and their families left this morning.
The group's tour guide, Betty Sweetman of Canton, said the men visited Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza and the Dallas-Fort Worth National Cemetery. They never considered the invitation to return to Five Sixty.
"We were humiliated once," Sweetman said, "so I don't think
they have any interest in stepping back in there."
It has been over six decades since the bombing over Schweinfurt, Germany, in 1943 that would forever be remembered as "Black Thursday." It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this wonderful event being held in your honor. Your sacrifice and commitment to our nation is what makes you an invaluable part of our city today.
This is a celebration of your legacy, and I encourage each and every one of you to take advantage of this opportunity for fellowship. We render homage to the selflessness, loyalty and heroism demonstrated by the 8th Army Air Force, also known as the Mighty 8th. The contributions and sacrifices of our military personnel are vital to maintaining America's freedom, and it is important to recognize the sacrifices, support and dedication of the families of those who serve. The city of Dallas is forever grateful for the courage, dedication, humility and sacrifices made by these soldiers in order to maintain our liberty and freedom. On this noteworthy occasion, we should bear in mind that while we have overcome difficult obstacles, cultural tolerance is something we must all practice and teach future generations.
Again, welcome to Dallas. I am sure you will enjoy our Southern hospitality. While you're in town, I hope you are able to explore the various amenities we have to offer. As you reunite with family and friends during this memorable occasion, please know that our city is at your service. I hope you have a wonderful weekend filled with celebration and good memories. I hope you discover why we like to call Dallas our home.
Best wishes for a successful and memorable event!
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