The Home Front Café will never die, it will just fade away

Enterprise file photo — Marcello Iaia
Honoring their host: The late Tom Lemme, a Marine who fought on Iwo Jima, presented Cindy Pollard with a depiction of the famous flag-raising in thanks “for all you have done for the Iwo Jima vets.”

ALTAMONT — The Home Front Café was a gathering place for Altamont’s elders — a place where painful memories could be safely shared.

It was also a place of celebration and learning, offering food for thought and sustenance for the soul as well as food to eat.

The era of isolation brought on by the pandemic has closed the restaurant for good.

Cindy Pollard modeled her café at 192 Main Street after her mother’s kitchen — complete with a mid-century stove and 1940s patterned tablecloths. The Andrews Sisters crooned “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in the background as diners decided between The Victory Garden veggie burger and The MacArthur grilled chicken.

She brought in school kids to talk to World War II veterans. She raised funds for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., hosting a canteen that involved the entire village.

“It’s like I’m the keeper of their stories,” she told The Enterprise a decade ago. “They’re important, each and every one of them … For the ground soldiers in the Pacific, it was kill or be killed. They saw such horror, they can’t talk about it … If they do, they’re back there. They smell the smells and have weeks of bad dreams.”

“My wife did a helluva job,” said Jack Pollard this week.

He went on about closing the restaurant, “My wife and I are both almost 90. She’s in a wheelchair. I’m in a wheelchair. Help is too hard to get … We’re running out of days.”

Jack Pollard also said, “We had a great time. We did some great things … How many people have met a Medal of Honor recipient? We had four of ’em come to our establishment — the first one from World War II and the first one from the Vietnam War. They became personal friends. I’ve lost ’em all now. The last one passed away last fall.”

Sometimes Cindy Pollard’s celebrations became too big for her café, like when she hosted a 100th birthday party for John Finn in 2005, then the oldest living recipient of a Medal of Honor. A thousand people — including two other Medal of Honor recipients — came to honor Finn at Altamont’s Village Hall.

“They did something heroic and honorable — acts of great courage — because it had to be done,” said Cindy Pollard of why she hosted the event.

Her café became a magnet for veterans to meet and share their stories. Recently, animation artist and author William H. Drake III included sketches of several of the Home Front regulars in his book, “A Moment and A Memory.”

“I just lost another one of my good friends, Tom Lemme. I just lost Porter Bidleman,” Jack Pollard said last week, naming two Home Front regulars, both World War II veterans.

Pollard himself served nine years in the National Guard and collects historic Army vehicles, some of which were displayed alongside the restaurant on Altamont’s Main Street.

“I bought it in 1978. First it was the Altamont Restaurant, then Cindy’s Country Kitchen,” said Pollard. The family business, Pollard Disposal, has its office in the building and there is an apartment upstairs.

Pollard grew up in Altamont in what he calls its heyday. He names all the many businesses in the village in that era. “This was a booming, money-making village,” he said. “Now it’s nothing but a bedroom village.”

He said of himself and his wife, “We both grew up in the Depression and World War II.”

Pollard lived at 123 Prospect Terrace, a Victorian home built in 1885, which he described as “a showplace, a palace.” He went on, “It had high ceilings, a built-in ice box, and was the first house in Altamont with central steam heat, the second house to get electricity.”

He met Cindy, who grew up in Albany, through her uncle. “I seen a picture of her when she was 5 or 6 and I was 10 or 12. I never thought I’d meet her.”

He went on, “I picked my wife up in Albany and married her. She fit right in with the community.

Asked about the future of the building at 124 Main Street, Pollard said, “What happens next is up to my son and daughter-in-law … Mark and Wendy. It’s their building. It’s their call ….

“If you walked in right now, you’d see it looks just like it always did. The salt and pepper shakers are still on the tables. We walked out and haven’t been back.”

Wendy Pollard told The Enterprise that she and her husband are not yet sure what will become of the building.

“It’s sad,” she said. “Everybody misses it … Even before the pandemic, definitely the clientele was down. I was keeping it open for Cindy. Once COVID came, there were just too many restrictions.”

She went on, “One of our waitresses called and said, ‘They’re all dying. It’s so sad.’”

Wendy Pollard reminisced over the trips that students made to the café. “The veterans didn’t want to do it at first. They were crying. It helped so many of them. It was like therapy … There’s no one left now to tell the stories.”

She went on, “That’s definitely going to be missed …. There’s a lot of things we’ll miss. I hope someone comes in and wants to make it a restaurant … I think Altamont really needs it.”



Wendy and Jack Pollard both said that the many items veterans and their families had given or loaned to the café will be returned to the families.

The Old Men of the Mountain would regularly breakfast at the café until the pandemic nixed their regular Tuesday-morning gatherings.

The group’s scribe, John Williams, wrote in one of his regular Enterprise columns, several years ago, “On Tuesday, Aug. 14, the Old Men of the Mountain left the comfort of their homes and took off on another wild adventure; this time, it was to the Home Front Café in Altamont. For those not familiar with the Home Front Café, it is like eating in a museum.

“Tuesday morning, an OMOTM brought an artifact for the café to add to its collection. It was a sextant (all it is is a device that measures the angle between objects) used for sighting a canon. This sextant would have been used in early battles; however, the café is dedicated to United States veterans of all conflicts.”

The most famous of the artifacts that was displayed at the café was the Orsini flag.

The Saratoga Museum wanted the Orsini flag but it went back to the Orsini family, Wendy Pollard said. “We were honored to have it.”

Millard Orsini — one of seven brothers — left Altamont to fight in World War II. As a Japanese prisoner of war, he risked his life to create an American flag out of whatever scraps he could steal from his captors.

Orsini had survived the Bataan Death March and became a Japanese prisoner of war, a slave laborer for 39 months.

“It took him three years to make a flag out of bits and pieces of anything he could steal from his captors,” Cindy Pollard told a gathering at her café. “Had he been detected, he would have been executed. The day he was liberated, he ran out with the flag …. He didn’t speak about it or the horrors of the war with his family,” she concluded. 

A commander at Altamont’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post went to his widow, Kay Orsini, and asked about the flag. “It looked like a piece of dried up old oil cloth,” said Cindy Pollard. “You couldn’t touch the flag without it flaking.” The flag was painstakingly restored by the Williamstown Art Conservation Center in Massachusetts.

The late village archivist, Marijo Dougherty, brought a state conservator to see the flag, to make sure it was properly protected. The conclusion was that the flag was framed properly but was getting too much light. So Altamont’s Train Station Quilters fashioned a red, white, and blue cover for the flag.

Helderberg artist John Williams, who is also the scribe for The Old Men of the Mountain, contributed a large painting of a fighter plane, a Bell P-69, to the café. It struck him that the mechanics’ work was essential for the safety of the pilot while, in turn, the pilot put his life on the line to protect the mechanics and their families.

“It’s about everybody being dependent on everybody else,” Williams said of the painting.


Sharing stories

In 1998, Altamont artist Ed Cowley was one of the first group of old soldiers to talk to schoolchildren at the Home Front Café about war. He wore his old Army uniform and took the starch out of heroism as he spoke of his wartime work with candor and self-deprecating humor.

“We landed after D-Day and fought in four battles in Europe,” he told the children matter-of-factly, pointing to the stars on his uniform.

Perhaps the worst wartime sights Cowley saw were the Nazi death camps, with Jews and Poles, that his company liberated. “We didn’t know anything about it,” he said. “The people in the camps walking around were skeletal. The people inside were dying … You see bad things in war all the time. This was different.”

Cowley, who frequently ate at the café, ordering from a menu that featured period entrées like Lunch at the Waldorf, painted the sign displayed on the outside of the building.

In 2005, The Enterprise ran letters from Guilderland High School sophomores who had come to the café to hear old soldiers tell stories of World War II and then had written to them about it.

“All I could think about during the presentation was the difference in patriotism between then and now,” wrote one boy. “Then people were proud to help their country and represent it in times of war; now people are ashamed of their country. One question that goes through my mind while listening to this presentation is: Are any of you mad at the United States for sending you to war?”

Another wrote, “I knew that my own father, who fought in the Vietnam War, was changed drastically by his experiences there. He was wounded several times and received many decorations for bravery as a right gunner in a Chinook helicopter. His medals include two Purple Hearts and a distinguished Flying Cross. He now suffers from severe Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which cost him many hours of happiness and both his marriages ....

“Being drafted would change my life completely, and I wonder if I would ever be able to continue pursuing my dreams of a musical career afterwards. I can only wait and try to learn from history and the stories of war-hardened men and women like yourselves to prepare myself for those looming days.”


“Poetry in granite”

Cindy Pollard launched a local fundraiser for the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. that became a community imperative. “She went to Washington as a guest to look at the memorial,” said her husband.

In 2004, Cindy Pollard hosted a celebration to honor Guilderland author Joseph Persico, who wrote the words inscribed on the monument. Persco died in 2014.

A devotee of the Home Front Café, Persico, who had served in the Navy during the Korean War, had donated some war memorabilia to its collection.

Persico was a member of the American Battle Monuments Commission — he was nominated to the commission by then Secretary of State Colin Powell — and, as a writer, the members looked to him to come up with the wording to memorialize the veterans of World War II.

When veterans gathered to meet him at the Home Front Café, he described the words as “a kind of poetry in granite.” He said they were the most satisfying words he ever wrote.

Seven of his words, “Here we mark the price of freedom,” are inscribed underneath the monument’s gold stars — 4,000 stars, each one standing for 100 Americans killed in the war.

The second inscription, carved in a horizontal granite slab facing the pillars surrounding the plaza states: “Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the eighteenth century father and the other the nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle during the second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice.”

“When all of my other books are forgotten, I expect these words will be remembered, “Persico told the Home Front crowd in 2004. “Some day, long after I’m gone, and my children and grandchildren are gone, those words will be there.”

More Guilderland News

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.