By Orrin Konheim
For lifelong Falls Church-area resident and JV’s Restaurant proprietor Lorraine Campbell, her favorite part of Memorial Day is hearing the stories.
“I hear so many incredible stories. I hear so many stories about some of the tragedies, about the things that they’ve had to do and the camaraderie is incredible,” said Campbell.
JV’s has developed a reputation for championing veterans over its 70 years in existence. Through the restaurant, Campbell raises money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Operation Renewed Hope and other charities. She has also assisted the U.S. Veteran’s Affairs Department with distributing informational pamphlets to veterans in need of help.
The restaurant’s Memorial Day weekend celebration is an extension of that ongoing patriotism. JV’s has been an unofficial stop for the motorcycle group Rolling Thunder’s Ride for Freedom since their first year and a major step towards the restaurant’s reputation as a watering hole for the veteran community. “It was a very small little group that came and they bought me a flag and we started selling t-shirts honoring these veterans,” said Campbell of the original Rolling Thunder celebration.
Now, every Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Campbell provides a free all-you-can-eat buffet to veterans and anyone who wants to thank them.
“It is obviously a place that takes patriotism and service to the country and community very seriously, so military service and beyond that public service through law enforcement, firefighters, suicide prevention and education are highly promoted at JV’s,” said bartender Michael Udell, who is also a retired U.S. navy commander. “I have also heard that artists of various nationalities and races that say they feel welcome there.”
Campbell’s father and uncle Bill founded JV’s in 1947 and it was their combat experience and service during and after World War II that engendered the restaurant to the local veteran community and inspired her to continue the tradition. Her father, George Dross, first came into contact with the perils of warfare as a dental student in Greece when soldiers from Mussolini’s army shot him in the back and left him for dead. It was the Greek resistance that nursed him back to health and whose ranks he eventually he joined.
Dross’ military career was marked by ghastly lows as a prisoner of war on two separate occasions, but were marked by indescribable highs such as discovering the unlikely bonds that transcended national allegiance. As part of his resistance effort, his family in Greece would often host American soldiers and he assisted British paratroopers after being released from his first captivity. The most crucial factor in his survival came from a member of the Gestapo, who Dross found himself in the custody of upon his second capture. The German man was secretly against the war and gave him money to go back to his country.
Dross forwent dental school and teamed up with Bill to open the restaurant (then known as “Jefferson’s Restaurant”) in 1947. At the time, Jefferson Village was the area’s first shopping center and Annandale Road and Route 50 were both still in their youth. Lorraine took over the operations in 1985 with her sister Pauline as a co-owner. Campbell went to college for computer science and briefly considered a different path but doesn’t regret her choice.
“I’m a people person, I love people, I love what I do, and I’m living the American dream to me,” she said.
Udell says that Lorraine Campbell’s generosity is known far and wide and it’s the word of mouth among a community of service among many nationalities that keeps a lot of the veterans’ events going.
“She’ll notice the law enforcement [uniform] décor and they’ll talk about the patches and she’ll spontaneously discount their meal,” said Udell.
A well-known hotspot for live performances of blues, country, classic rock and bluegrass, JV’s has hosted celebrities and public figures like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, bluegrass legend Tony Rice, actor Dan Aykroyd and 1950s pop singer Eddie Fisher (who used to stop by daily and have his breakfast with George when he was stationed at Fort Myer) as either regular customers or drop-in performers.
“I believe music is good for the soul and helps you escape your problems for a while,” said Campbell.
A lot of JV’s customers have known Lorraine and her sister since they were children and the type of music attracts a number of older customers as well. Campbell believes the connections between veterans helps keep this an intergenerational space as she sees younger veterans looking up to, and hearing stories from, older veterans here.