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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 21, 2010

From one eatery to another
AWOL soldier discovered by Dewey’s Diner owner

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

ALTAMONT — Gordon Dewey was born into the diner business. But, in all of his decades of sharing stories with customers, the return of the AWOL soldier has become a favorite.

“We were out on motorcycles at midnight,” he said, recalling events near the end of September. “We drove by our diner in Colonie.”

Dewey’s Diner at 51 Fuller Road was founded by Dewey’s mother, Lilian, when he was just one year old. Now 61, he runs it with his wife, Karen, and daughter, Tracey. The diner is open daily from 6 a.m. until 2 p.m., and Dewey often swings by after hours to check on it.

What Dewey saw from his motorcycle at midnight surprised him. In the dark of night, it looked like a man pointing his gun at the diner’s Dumpster.

Dewey is not one to be intimidated.

He took a closer look and discovered a 300-pound fiberglass statue, dressed like a World War II soldier.

“I didn’t know it was a statue at first,” he said. “We went home and I called my daughter.” He didn’t want her to be startled by the statue.

“I was going to put it in my backyard next to the flagpole,” he said. “We told the story in the diner on Monday.”

Dewey’s customers immediately surmised that it must be the statue that was stolen from Altamont’s Home Front Café in August. Cindy and Jack Pollard own and run the World War II-themed eatery, which is widely popular, particularly with veterans.

Altamont’s Veterans of Foreign Wars Post had offered a $500 reward for the return of the statue. And, the theft was widely covered in the media. Enterprise reporter Jo E. Prout had coined the term “AWOL soldier” for the missing statue.

Dewey continued with his narrative, “Everybody said, ‘It must be the AWOL soldier.’”

So, he looked up the Home Front Café in the phone book and called. “I said, ‘I think I’ve got your AWOL soldier.’ And he said, ‘I have to come with the chief of police to pick it up,’” recalled Dewey. “They came and got it.”

Anthony Salerno, who was Altamont’s public safety commissioner for five years until he decided not to take the required Civil Service exam, was appointed to a part-time post as “team leader” of the 11-member police department.

Salerno would not speak to The Enterprise about the statue’s return, but Mayor James Gaughan, who is overseeing the police department, stated earlier, on the return of the statue, “As always, I am very proud of the Altamont Police Department for its excellent investigative work. We join with the concerned citizens and veterans to welcome the statue home.”

Cindy Pollard said earlier that she may have a little hometown celebration when the soldier is reinstated. “I’m going to welcome him home with a traditional yellow ribbon, she said.

When asked if he had any idea who had taken the statue and put it at his diner, Dewey said, “No clue.”

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