Sept. 22 in the Houston Chronicle

Sometimes the spy is late or can’t make it, but that doesn’t stop Willard Pennington, 99, from pushing his walker through the door of McDonald’s every Saturday about 11 a.m.

John Mawhinney, 93, guides Pennington up the curb while the youngster, 89-year-old William Allison, holds the door for them.

Once seated, Pennington sometimes pulls out a silver naval whistle from the buttoned pocket of his plaid shirt and gives it a loud toot. Customers waiting in line jump at the shrill note, not knowing it heralds the weekly lunch gathering of World War II veterans.

“He’s got lungs, doesn’t he?” Allison observes as the whistle toots again and again. Pennington smiles broadly, and nobody tells him he’s interrupting. After all, Pennington has difficulty hearing and decides who passes muster to join the group.

He started going to lunch with his neighbor, ’50s Air Force vet Tom Miller, 78, to talk about football and tell stories about the war. They later invited Miller’s friend and colleague Bob Cordell, a 95-year-old retired spy, and Roy Dye, who had served under Gen. George Patton as an infantry captain and died in April at age 94.

Every day, hundreds of World War II veterans die nationwide. About 740 died each day last year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Sitting at a table near the door, these members of what TV newscaster Tom Brokaw dubbed “the Greatest Generation” say they’ve met every Saturday for some 15 years. They know the odds but still talk with excitement about planning for Pennington’s 100th birthday in December.

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