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An Exclusive Luncheon in Chester County Brings Together Military Vets

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Photo by Tessa Marie Images

A low-key bimonthly gathering, SPECWAR & Friends Luncheon in Chester County brings together an elusive military A-list.

Organizers of the SPECWAR & Friends Luncheon were hoping that retired captain David Christian would sit at the head of the table. He is, after all, an honored guest scheduled to sign copies of his book, Victor Six: The Saga of America’s Youngest, Most Decorated Officer in Vietnam. “I don’t want to,” says Christian, before retreating to the back of Pietro’s Prime steakhouse on a February Saturday in downtown West Chester. “I like to be under the radar.”

The title of the distinguished veteran’s 1990 autobiography pretty much says it all. He enlisted at 17 and, a year later, became the youngest commissioned officer to lead troops into battle since the Civil War. Now 73, Christian earned seven Purple Hearts and numerous military awards, including the Distinguished Service Cross, the Bronze Star, two Silver Stars and the Air Medal (for amassing 25 combat assaults by helicopter). He served two tours in Vietnam from 1966 to 1970, before retiring with severe injuries and napalm burns over 40 percent of his body.

“Mr. Christian, have you learned to duck and roll yet?” poses SPECWAR co-host Chuck Corbett Jr., a retired chief intelligence specialist for the Navy.

In his career, Corbett also served as a chemical security inspector for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and an FBI intelligence analyst. He and other organizers see the luncheon as the first in a series a bimonthly gatherings for retired special war service personnel young and old. You won’t find much online about this elite bunch—Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Airbornes, Rangers and other special operations veterans. Of the 135 invited guests, 80 were confirmed and 55 attended. “SEALs don’t advertise,” says co-host George Kearns. “We’ll be over 100 next time.”

military vet

David Christian on the Villanova University campus.

Kearns won’t discuss his military service. But the Westtown resident does reveal his part in orchestrating the homecoming of the most decorated battleship in U.S. Naval history, the USS New Jersey, on Nov. 11, 1999, and the subsequent creation of a museum and memorial. “These guys feel they’re still undercover or on active duty,” says Christian. “There’s little to nothing on them that you can find, but they’re all legends. Silent warriors. This is a historic afternoon.”

Kearns and Corbett had been meeting for lunch at the West Point Society in Philadelphia, where Kearns is a life member and serves on the board. Occasionally, retired U.S. Coast Guard investigator Ed Karasiewicz would join them. Soon enough, they’d expanded to a group of nine at Pietro’s Prime. “There’s never an agenda—except fellowship, lunch and laughs,” says Corbett, who began his military service as a post-Vietnam military police officer.

Based on the character of the niche personnel, Kearns has high hopes for these meet-ups. “The first thing you learn about SEALs is that they’re overachievers,” he says. “They get out, then go get a Harvard MBA. By the mere fact that they’re SEALs, they’re determined. They live by the military adage of the ‘7 Ps’—proper planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance. If you live your life like that after you’ve served, life will never let you down.”

As for Christian, he introduces himself simply as a soldier. “You always think someone else is going to get hurt, but you also have to know how hostile the situations are,” he says.

Christian went on to earn degrees from Villanova University and Penn, along with a law degree from Rutgers University. He has two other books in the works: Yankee in Red Square and Ambassador to Chechnya, which cover his years of his continued service under past presidents. Now living in Washington Crossing, Christian was a senior adviser to the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations for national defense and veterans benefits, a position created by the late John McCain and Sen. John Kerry. Later in Chechnya, he served as a special ambassador for economic, humanitarian and medical aid.

Christian also authored legislation on Agent Orange and post-traumatic stress disorder, among so many other contributions. It’s no wonder Kearns hopes he’ll be a regular at SPECWAR luncheons. Christian doesn’t see why not. “It’s so important for these guys to share with each other,” he says. “The threads of each one of these guys are threads of the American flag—and you have to admire them.”

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