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Thankful for each other: Group of veterans safely meet every morning despite COVID-19 challenges

When the McDonald's closed their indoor dining during the pandemic, the group set up a makeshift meeting spot in the parking lot every morning.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — In this era of COVID-19 and on this Thanksgiving holiday, what do you have to be thankful for?

For most, it's about family and health. For others, giving thanks is an everyday occurrence. Like this group of friends who, for the last dozen or so years, have been meeting each morning to greet a new day. 

Right under the golden arches at the busy intersection of South Padre Island Drive and Staples, you may see what appears to be a makeshift campsite.

From a distance, it looks like a meeting place has been set up, complete with folding chairs and flags. But, as you get closer, it is quick to see it is a gathering of friends.

"Rene Soliz, Navy. '53 to '63," Soliz said.

"Bill de Santos U.S. Marine Corps, 1959 to 1963," the introductions continued. 

"Ocatavio de la Garza, I was not in the military but I'm a retired fireman." 

"Ruben Garza, United States Air Force, 1958 to 1963, and we really don't hold it against him, " Ruben joked.

This lighthearted group has been meeting bright and early every day of the week, except Sunday, for quite some time.

"Over 28 years," Octavio said. "Different friends, some have gone to a better life, some new ones come and go. 

"We enjoy each other because we've known each other for a long time, Rene said. "Ruben here we've known each other since 1950, so we go back a long time." 

It is no coincidence they meet where they do. 

Credit: 3News

"We used to inside here at McDonald's, we really enjoyed it, but this pandemic, we couldn't go inside but we still figured out a way to get together," Bill said. 

In fact, the manager at McDonald's, where the group usually meets, invited them to set up their makeshift area between cars to accommodate the group of friends. 

"So we come in, we bring our lawn chairs. We go in and get our coffee, come out and enjoy each other's company. "

And one might wonder why they gather. Yes, it is about friendship. 

"And it goes beyond that," Ruben said. "Very difficult to explain but we look forward to being out here every morning."

In this new age of COVID, these gentlemen see their daily meetings as a blessing. They are thankful they are in good health and are able to enjoy the camaraderie, share stories, and enjoy a brief respite from the daily grind of the world we know today. 

"Instead of going to see a doctor and telling them our problems, ah you know a psychologist, you know they charge a lot of money, Rene said. "Here we can spend the money on us and enjoy the conversations. "

And Rene hit the nail on the head: enjoy what some of us may have taken for granted, the simple act of face-to-face conversation, albeit at a safe distance.

The membership of this group has shrunk over the years, but they've adopted a few unlikely characters along the way. 

"There's one that has a broken wing, we've kind of adopted him and we give him food every morning," Bill said while feeding a bird. 

One good deed, deserving another. While this is not your traditional Thanksgiving story -- Rene, Octavio, Bill, and Ruben said being able to meet up with lifelong friends is something to be thankful for. 

For the latest updates on coronavirus in the Coastal Bend, click here.

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