Cruising with the Crispies: Vets take new friends on a ride in 60-year-old Cessna 195 (PHOTOS)

Jennie McKeon
From L to R (Back Row): Brian Muskus, Sam Lombardo, Ron Johnston, Ron "Westy" Westenbarger, Jeff Marken, Rachel Baker, Rich Adams. Front Row: Robena McMahon, Crystal Ayers, Amelia Wolthers.

For about eight years now a group of retired military and military enthusiasts has been meeting every Thursday morning for breakfast.

At these breakfast meetings, the Crispy Warriors (the name derived from their bacon preference) share stories of their service, laugh together and just enjoy each other's company. And after so many years, they have a few honorary members within the Another Broken Egg staff. Download this document and meet the Crispy Warriors.

"These guys are a hoot," said Amelia Wolthers, server at the popular breakfast spot. "Just the wisdom that comes from these guys — I just want them to tell me all about life."

To show their appreciation to the breakfast servers, the Crispies decided to take some of the staff on an airplane ride around the Emerald Coast. It was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Jeff Marken, one of the youngest of the Crispy Warriors, offered up his 60-year-old Cessna 195 for the Monday morning flight. The plane has been in his family for almost 50 years.

"They take such good care of us," Marken said of Another Broken Egg. "We wanted to do something for them."

The Crispy Warriors group originated with a handful of retired military men meeting weekly at Harbor Docks. Through the years, the group has grown to about 30 members. Each week around 12 to 20 show up for Thursday morning breakfast coming from Miramar Beach, Niceville and Fort Walton Beach.

"It started with aviators really," said Ron “Westy” Westenbarger, who served in the Air Force. "Then we started to have other members. We have some from the Navy and Army. Really, anybody that wants to come can join us. We have about three or four members that never served."

Take off time

At around 10 a.m. Monday, Wolthers and co-worker Crystal Ayers walked up the red carpet at Destin Airport and into the Cessna. It was the first time Wolthers had been in such a small plane.

"I'm excited," she said. "I'm always up for an adventure."

The Crispy Warriors were more than happy to provide that adventure.

"It's about sharing the thrill of flight with these young people," said Ron Johnston.

The Destin Airport opened up the conference room for the Warriors and their guests of honor. During the first flight, the men waited inside and shared their stories of flying in the service while enjoying coffee and homemade banana nut bread from World War II vet Sam Lombardo.

"It's been 20 years since I last got to fly in a small plane," remarked Rich Adams, an army aviator and 1967 West Point graduate.

"The last time for me was 1955 in Japan," added Lombardo.

When it was time for the first take-off, the Cessna was waiting right outside the airport. A red carpet was laid out for Wolthers and Ayers, the first two to fly. Before they had even made it in the air, the women had already taken out their phones to snap photos.

After a 20-minute ride, the two disembarked the plane with wide smiles.

"It was so relaxing," Wolthers said. "Living here my whole life, I also got a different perspective. I got to see the whole thing — from Eglin to Seaside. And it was one of the smoothest landings and takeoffs ever."

Rachel Baker, server, and Another Broken Egg manager Robena McMahon climbed on the plane for the second flight. With one seat left to fill, Adams hopped in the back.

To commemorate the girls' flights, the Warriors printed bright blue certificates with their names printed on them and ended the morning with a champagne toast.

"We always look forward to our Thursday group," McMahon said. "We love these guys."