Falling Pins, Rising Spirits As Local Vets Forge Bonds
BILLERICA -- Bonded by their experiences serving in the Air Force, if it wasn’t for bowling Joseph Zangri, George Samataro and Alex Landry may never have realized that they share another bond -- they all attended the same high school, and two of them grew up just blocks from each other.
In January, the DAV Auxilliary Unit 47 in Billerica used a donation to offer free bowling every Thursday for veterans and their families at Collins Bowladrome. The idea for bowing stemmed from coffee socials that local chapters have been hosting around the state.
“I think it builds camaraderie,” Unit 47 Commander Karen Milliken said.
It was not until Zangri, Samataro and Landry were put on the same bowling lane that they discovered their connection. The discovery started with Landry, who had a sneaking feeling that Samataro was also a graduate of Central Catholic High School in Lawrence.
“Confidence, direction -- it was a sense (that) he had the thing that I thought he should have if you come from Central,” said Landry, a Lowell resident.
As the pair began talking about their days at Central, they discovered that Landry, who graduated in 1959, was in the same class as Samataro’s brother-in-law. Zangri, who graduated in1960, then joined the conversation and they realized that Zangri and Samataro grew up just streets apart in Lowell.
“We were just talking and it was weird,” said Samataro, who graduated in 1971.
Adding to the coincidence -- all three joined the Air Force after high school, though none of them met during their service.
“It’s just funny the three of us were put bowling together,” said Samataro, a Lowell resident.
After the three discovered the connection, Zangri brought some of his yearbooks to the bowling alley for them to look through and as Landry put it, “memories flowed.” They talked about shared teachers, classes and pastimes.
“It was wonderful to be able to talk about shared experiences at Central which set us on a clear path,” Landry said.
That path led all three to the Air Force, drawn because of the opportunities it offered post-service.
“The Air Force was great to me because I became a senior engineer without going to college.” said Zangri.
Now a Tewksbury resident, Zangri joined the Air Force right out of high school and did not even get to attend his graduation. He served four years in defense command.
For Landry, who served from 1960 to 1964, the Air Force felt like a natural step as he had always been interested in aeronautics. According to Landry, his yearbook said he would most likely end up working at Cape Canaveral.
Samataro served in the Air Force from 1979 to 1989.
“I’ve been everywhere in the world twice over,” he said. “My kids loved it, growing up on the Air Force base.”
According to Samataro, the three talk more about the military than their high school connection.
“If you served in the military there’s a special bond,” Zangri said.
That bond is the purpose behind events like coffee socials and free bowling for veterans. The goal is to help fend off isolation and connect veterans in a relaxed, judgment-free environment.
“It helps with the isolation,” Milliken said.
Milliken shared how one veteran struggling with depression had not wanted to get out of bed, except for the bowling events. It was a coffee social at the Bedford VA that helped Milliken, who joined the Navy in 1991, with her own depression and anxiety.
“I think they all know what it feels like and I think this does help,” Milliken said.
The weekly event is not exclusive to bowlers. Attendees can come just to enjoy the company.
“Some just come for the snacks, some just to hang out, some just come to keep score,” Milliken said.
Though the atmosphere is lighthearted, there is an element of competition. Every week the winner of the day gets a gift card to Dunkin Donuts, McDonald’s or Subway.
As Milliken looked around the bowling alley she reflected on just how impactful a simple event like afternoon bowling can be.
“They bring out the good in me too,” Milliken said.
Free bowling for veterans takes place at Collins Bowladrome on Boston Road every Thursday from 1 to 3 p.m.