Special Mission BBQ Father’s Day for Fort Myers man
Robert Cronin’s family surprised the U.S. Army vet on Father’s Day by having a framed photo of him, 60 years younger, at Mission BBQ in Fort Myers.
Michael Braun, Fort Myers News-Press
Robert Michael Cronin knew his family was celebrating Father’s Day with him Sunday but he was surprised to see his photo, some 60 years younger, adorning a booth at Mission BBQ.
“I didn’t expect it, I had no idea,” the Korean War-era U.S. Army veteran said of the sepia-toned and framed print affixed to the wall of the restaurant booth. “That was when I was an honor guard in Fort Benning.”
Cronin’s wife, children and grandchildren conspired to honor the family patriarch on Father’s Day at the military-themed eatery in Fort Myers. The restaurant is bedecked on almost every spare space with hundreds of similarly framed photos, insignia, uniforms and other regalia representing veterans, police officers, firefighters and medical personnel.
“He loves our country deeply,” his daughter, Lisa Cronin Keim, said. “The proudest thing he has done is serve.”
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The 84-year-old’s Father’s Day surprise was a tribute to that military service which ran four years in the army including his volunteering to serve along the demilitarized zone in South Korean.
“Actually, I served on the DMZ when it was just a trench,” he said. “I was a forward observer….They gave us a Jeep, high-powered binoculars, a 30-caliber machine gun, a box of ammunition and a short-wave radio and said go up there and stay there and ‘If something happens, call us’.”
It was also in Korea, Cronin said, that he got the seed planted to eventually adopt a child. Although, unmarried then, Cronin said he visited a Korean orphanage and heard a voice tell him, “Bring one of these kids to America.”
Years later, still hearing that voice, Cronin and his wife adopted a four-year-old Korean girl. He married wife Mary Ellen 62 years ago and they have six children.
That father connection was also lauded, along with dozens of other restaurant patrons.
“I thought how powerful would it be to totally surprise my father and have him meet us on Sunday …. at 11:30 to just have lunch,” Cronin’s daughter said.
The restaurant’s habit of having the singing of the national anthem at noon every day added a special meaning to the Cronin celebration as well as to those others there.
“Was he surprised? Yes, I can tell,” Cronin’s grandson Josh Miller, 25, said. “My grandpa and I have always been very close. To see him honored like this is very touching and makes me happy.”
Lisa Cronin Keim added that the anticipation before the anthem was building and worth the wait.
“From mom getting the photo and sneaking it to me, to standing next to him during the anthem, it was so worth it,” she said. “(Mission BBQ) made it so special.”
Almost a dozen of Cronin’s extended family members surrounded the Long Island, New York, native, standing with him as the anthem was sung and joking with him about the much more hirsute look of him in the U.S. Army photo.
Restaurant employees like Delbert Miller, a U.S. Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, stopped by to welcome Cronin and celebrate with him.
“I think it was a great surprise,” Miller said.
Cronin, who after his military service worked as a railroad worker, millwright carpenter, carpenter, construction foreman, as well as in quality assurance and control, was touched by the anthem.
“It was special,” he said. “Because, as I looked around I saw a family, all family, this place was packed out with family, and that’s what happened to my heart. I was touched and I am touched.”