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Veterans Breakfast Club uses TikTok to share war stories, foster community

Caitlin O'Brien

The Veterans Breakfast Club now gathers virtually to allow veterans to share stories about military service. (Veterans Breakfast Club)
The Veterans Breakfast Club is thriving on TikTok, amassing nearly thirty thousand followers on the video sharing platform while sharing content that ranges from deeply personal war stories to lighthearted moments unique to military culture.

Look no further for the latter than the group’s most-watched video, one featuring a Navy corpsman’s lime green underwear blowing down an airport runway in Khe Sanh, Vietnam.

“Even in the most dire circumstances, which Khe Sanh was, there still can be humor and funny things that happen,” Raymond Amelio, the star of the viral underwear TikTok, told Observation Post.

Amelio, who served in Vietnam from 1968-69 and has been involved with VBC as both a storytelling participant and a four-year board chair, called the TikTok move an important step for “citizens of this country to understand what the military does and what people in the military encounter, especially when they are in combat.”

“If it gets people laughing, then you can talk about ... the serious side of combat and military,” he added.

Todd DePastino, the executive director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, echoed Amelio’s sentiments.

“We just think it’s critical that people, no matter where you are or where you come from, understand just a little bit of what serving in the armed forces entails,” he said.

Started in 2008 by 30 World War II veterans in the greater Pittsburgh area, VBC puts on community-building events that encourage veteran connection through storytelling — and importantly, breakfast — with other attendees.

For years, events in the region drew around 100 visitors, both veterans and non-military alike, but when the pandemic mandated a pause to in-person rendezvous, the group transitioned to events on Zoom, Facebook Live and YouTube Live.

And while the aforementioned platforms allowed VBC to increase its number of meetings to about three per week, it was TikTok that offered the best opportunity to grab the attention of a younger audience. To VBC’s delight, the effort to share untold stories has been a resounding success.

“We’ve been surprised about how people really have responded to it,” said DePastino. “They connect with the veterans. [It] offers a little glimpse into the world of serving in the military.”

DePastino added that the platform has also acted as a lifeline for those troubled by pandemic-fueled isolation.

“COVID-19 has proven that social media and video conferencing can really enrich people’s lives if they’re open to using it,” he said.

Amelio, meanwhile, has two primary goals for VBC’s growing TikTok account: Encourage informed dialogue that will help citizens question why the U.S. chooses to go to war and remind those without a direct connection to service members of the importance of military service.

“We don’t have all of this for no reason,” he said. “The military is here to preserve our freedoms and protect us.”


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