LEWISTON — Nobody convinced Donald, Norman or Gerry Vaillancourt to enlist in the military.

They enlisted because that’s what guys do, that’s what their dad did and that’s what citizens ought to do, they said.

It made them better men, they said.

The three brothers — ages 67, 66 and 58 — sat side by side at a morning veterans’ breakfast Monday provided by the Lewiston High School Army Cadets.

Wearing battle dress uniforms, the teen cadets heaped plates with ham and scrambled eggs, filled cups with juice and coffee, and cleared away the empties when they were finished.

To the Vaillancourts, it was a simple, much-appreciated gift.

“The way we were treated when we came home still resonates with me,” said Norman, who entered the Navy in 1967. During his service he remembers sailing into Vietnamese ports and hearing cannon fire.

Yet, he and Donald, who had joined the Air Force one year earlier, were taught to hide their military connections.

“They told us, before we went home, to change into our ‘civvies’ (civilian clothes),” Donald said.

Uniforms, they learned, were scorned.

“Things here have turned around,” Donald said, munching on his eggs.

That scorn that he faced had lessened by the time Gerry enlisted in the war’s final days. It seems to shrink with each passing year, he said.

Gerry signed on, not because his brothers did, but because it was “a guy thing,” he said.

“I tried the college thing,” Gerry Vaillancourt said while working on his breakfast. “It didn’t work out.”

He went into the active duty Army. A few years later, he transitioned into the Air National Guard. Gerry stayed in for 23 years before retiring from the Guard in 1998.

Gerry became a production worker for newspapers in Brunswick and Portland. Donald went to work at Bath Iron Works. Norman became a police officer in Lewiston. He later worked at Lewiston-Auburn 911 before retiring with a disability in 1999.

Gerry lives in Topsham. Norman and Donald live in Lewiston.

All three brothers said they succeeded in their careers because they served in the military.

More people should serve, they agreed.

“Other countries make people serve a year in the military,” Norman said. “I think that’s a good idea.”

He imagines a country where all young people endure the tough training of a drill instructor.

“The bottom line is discipline,” he said. “When they get out, they’re more mature. They’ve seen something. I think there would be less crime.”

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