FARRAGUT STATE PARK - Victory gardens and World War II ration books haven't been around for a while, but Rodney Keith and Ron Coglon can remember them.
"I can remember as a kid, blackouts, fire wardens, victory gardens, and of course there were no coupons available for candy, that sort of thing," Coglon said. "It was a very limited ration book, trust me. So we had to make do with things. I remember patching shoes and my bike tires."
"I was so tired of weeding that victory garden," Coglon added.
The two veterans visited Saturday morning after the opening ceremony of the 27th annual Farragut Veteran's Reunion at Farragut State Park.
Coglon, 78, joined the service right after the Korean War and fought in Vietnam. His dad Roger B. Coglon was a physician in Farragut's main hospital from 1943 to 1946.
"We're looking to make reconnections, if we can," Coglon said. "I would like to find somebody who knew my dad."
Keith, 86, trained at Farragut Naval Station from September to December of '44.
"It was tough, sometimes," Keith said. "You're an 18-year-old green kid, you didn't know any different."
Keith can still recall what it was like to work in the boiler room.
"We had to use a dustpan to sort the coal to keep the rocks from going through the stoker," he said. "If they'd go through the stoker, you'd break the shear pin, then you were in trouble with the chief that was in charge of the boiler. He'd chew you out real good."
The reunion attracted a crowd onto the lawn of the Museum at the Brig. It was a still morning under pale gray skies, an atmosphere of earnest reverence. Many who attended proudly wore their veteran's caps and jackets and listened as speakers approached the podium to say a few words.
Park ranger Dennis Woolford had a special story to share.
"Anyone write a love letter in WWII?" he asked the crowd. Woolford explained that a love letter had been found wedged into a brig wall, and was only discovered a few months ago. It was dated 1945, a year before Farragut was decommissioned. Woolford's voice slightly cracked as he read the letter, displaying the emotion and recollection that could be seen on the faces of those listening, those who may have written a similar letter at some point during their enlistment.
"They were so young," said retired teacher Jan Vann. "There's not going to be a lot of time left before the veterans are gone."
Vann's father went to Farragut when he was only 17. She said he and his friends would sometimes prank their superiors, like when they dismantled an old jalopy and reassembled it on the roof of their barracks.
"Before they went out and served in the war, they were here, and it wasn't always doom and gloom," Vann said.
She contributed something unique to the reunion. She had about 30 copies of a book made a while ago by one of her fifth-grade classes. "In a Child's Eyes" is a collection of student interviews with their grandparents and older relatives who served in the war. Vann gave them to the attending WWII vets, and left a copy for Farragut State Park to keep.
At the end on the ceremony, a large American flag was carried onto the lawn. All vets were invited to join in the unfurling. Those who participated stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a circle around the flag with hands on its stripes and stars.
After the ceremony, everyone was invited to a barbecue in a day area of Farragut State Park. Many strolled into the Museum at the Brig to learn or relearn about the days of the Naval station. Some continued to converse on the lawn, sharing tearful stories and joyful reminiscences of bygone days.
Next year's Veteran's Reunion is scheduled for the Saturday after Labor Day, Sept. 6.