BLAIR LAMBAISO DOWDY WOODY TOPPING TURNER
Bill Tiernan  /  AP
William Blair, second left, of Suffolk, Va., holds a flag presented to him by former World War II prisoners of war Wednesday morning aboard the USS Bataan in Norfolk, Va. Blair is joined by, from left, Jenro Lambaiso of Virginia Beach, Charlie Dowdy of Virginia Beach, Stanley Woody of Norfolk, David Topping of Chesapeake and Turk Turner of Virginia Beach.
updated 2/2/2006 1:22:26 AM ET 2006-02-02T06:22:26

For 30 years, a group of former World War II prisoners of war has been getting together for a monthly breakfast at Bunny’s Restaurant. And for the last few years, someone has been anonymously picking up the tab.

On Wednesday, the men — including a survivor of the Bataan Death March and others who were imprisoned in the Pacific — finally met their patron, an area businessman who was just a boy when World War II came to an end.

To thank shy benefactor William Blair, the five gray-haired veterans, all in their 80s, gathered in a dining area of the USS Bataan, and presented him with an American flag that was flown by the amphibious assault ship earlier this week.

“Mr. Blair, it’s nice to finally meet you,” said 84-year-old David Topping, who survived the Bataan Death March, in which thousands of captured U.S. and Filipino soldiers were forced to walk 70 miles to a concentration camp, many dying on the way. Topping was held by the Japanese for more than three years, he said.

Blair, a 69-year-old Army veteran who served in Germany in the 1950s, said that the men were his heroes and that he was happy to have been able to do something for them, because Pacific POWs have never been honored like those who served in the European theater.

He said he could not recall exactly how long he has been paying the tab and never bothered to add up how much he spent over the years.

License plates outside, full plates inside
Blair, an asphalt contractor, said he pulled up in the parking lot at Bunny’s in nearby Suffolk one day and was touched by the sight of several cars with POW license plates. Inside, he noticed a group of men at a table and asked the restaurant owner about them.

Told they were Pacific POWs, Blair decided to pick up the check, insisting his identity not be revealed. He continued to pay the tab as the years passed, and as the number of vets dwindled through death and illness from about 20 to just a few.

About a year ago, though, a waitress accidentally let the secret slip, said Donna House, a Navy veteran who began attending the breakfasts after befriending one of the POWs. The group had been trying, unsuccessfully, since then to meet Blair.

Blair said he intends to keep paying for the group’s breakfasts.

Asked whether he might start eating with the men, he smiled and said, “I probably will, now that I’ve been found out.”

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