Honor Flight: Whirlwind tour of D.C. by area veterans
In a sped-up version of the trek many undertook 60 years ago, 102 World War II veterans this week flew across the United States from Grand Junction to the East Coast.
This time, they were aboard the second Western Slope Honor Flight to see the World War II Memorial in the middle of the National Mall.
The veterans, the youngest of whom were in their mid-80s, made their way by wheelchair, canes and some still-sturdy legs through Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Many tugged along oxygen bottles, many just wheezed.
They visited Arlington National Cemetery and viewed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, where the guard on duty gave an extra scuff with his heavy-soled shoes in recognition of the presence of World War II veterans.
Several who had been there marveled at the statue depicting the posting of the flag atop Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima at the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial on the opposite side of the Potomac River from the mall.
The next day, the vets, some accompanied by sons and daughters and some by guardians who paid their way and the vets, drew up to the World War II Memorial, a giant pool surrounded by arches denoting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and 56 pillars signifying the 48 states and eight territories that contributed to the U.S. war effort.
The memorial, which opened in 2004, includes a field of 4,048 stars, each representing 100 American deaths. In all, more than 400,000 of the 16 million who served during the war died in it.
“There is not an American today who is not in some way indebted to your service,” Navy Cmdr. Timothy Kott told the Honor Flight veterans on Tuesday night before they visited the memorial.
Those 16 million have been dying at the rate of about 1,100 a day since the turn of the century, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The World War II Memorial is impressive, said veteran Edward Meisner of Rifle.
“It would have been nice if it had been there 20 or 30 years earlier.”
‘I never knew that’ — Son learns details of his father’s service
High over the Midwest, on the way to Grand Junction from Washington, D.C., Allen Waters, 85, pried open and peered inside a manila envelope handed him during mail call.
“My dad is made of stone,” said Waters’ son, Paul, 53, who sat next to him in the rear section of the U.S. Airways Boeing 757. “And his eyes teared up.”
Those letters were from family and friends and people he never met, schoolchildren to mayors, all offering thanks for his contribution to World War II.
During the Honor Flight Tuesday and Wednesday, Paul Waters had a chance, his first, really, to learn from the one participant in the conflict who would tell him nothing.
Yes, Allen Waters said, he was in it. He served in the Atlantic and the Pacific aboard The U.S.S. Admiral R.E. Coontz, a troop ship that ferried soldiers to battle in both theaters.
He served as a cook, Allen said, as the Coontz ferried soldiers to Iwo Jima, Okinawa and other hot zones of the South Pacific. Five times he was aboard as the Coontz went through the Panama Canal.
That’s about all that he could learn about his father’s experience in World War II, Paul said.
“He wouldn’t talk about it so I had to read up on it,” Paul Waters said.
Allen joked about spotting a submarine’s periscope pop up about 200 feet from the ship (it was attached to a U.S. sub, it turned out) and being near the U.S.S. Saratoga when it struck a mine, and allowed as to how he was “just lucky.”
Then, sitting in a bus outside the Marine Corps Memorial, Allen Waters touched on the cost of the war.
The Admiral Coontz didn’t just deliver troops to battle, it picked them up afterward and took them to be patched up.
“We had 2,000 stretcher cases at a time,” he said.
“Two-thousand stretcher cases ...” said his son, “I never knew that.”
The next day, walking down the curving pathway toward the pool in the center of the World War II Memorial, Paul threw an arm around his father and hugged him, “This is what you did!”
Grandma, ‘You took the words “Duty, Honor, Country” to the fullest’
Back when she was 21 or 22, it’s kind of hard to remember, Betty Chapman got married. Best, perhaps, it was to a flyboy — the catch of the day back in the 1940s, when battles were raging and pilots were the latest and greatest in the many generations of dashing warriors.
Her husband even had the perfect flyboy name: Jack Kelly.
That kind of perfection, though, flickers quickly and dissolves into ashes. That’s what happened about a year in the marriage.
Jack Kelly was flying The Hump — what the flyboys called the eastern end of the Himalaya — when one of the peaks got in the way.
Betty Kelly suddenly was a widow.
So she did the logical thing.
“I joined the service.”
As a member of the Women’s Army Corps, the WACs, Chapman worked in the states, making arrangements for people in the service who were headed overseas.
She worked with young men bound for Europe and other young men headed for the Pacific Theater.
“I never served overseas, but I was busy,” Chapman said. “I signed them up to send their money home because they didn’t need it where they were going.”
Chapman was accompanied on the Honor Flight by her daughter Sue Shields, the eldest of seven Chapman children.
One of the letters she received on the trip was from her granddaughter, Laura Shields.
“Knowing you were a part of historical change by entering into the Women’s Army Corps during WWII, is an honor to know you.
“However, I have the best part of it all. You are a relative of mine, my grandmother. So I write this here today to tell you, Grandma, how proud I am to know you, to be related to you and to let you know that your patronage has not been unseen by our country. When you took that oath on 9 Oct. 1944, you took the words “Duty, Honor, Country” to the fullest. You took those three hallowed words and reverently dictate what you ought to be, what you can be, what you will be and accomplished them.”
On the Honor Flight’s return to Grand Junction, Chapman was greeted by Laura and two other grandchildren, Matthew Chapman and Jacqueline Shields, and Matthew’s girlfriend, Ashley Jones.
Though the trip was intended primarily to allow veterans of the defining conflict of the 20th century to view the World War II Memorial, Chapman had an additional goal.
She hoped to see the grave of her brother, George Schuette, in Arlington National Cemetery, but the schedule didn’t allow for it.
Schuette was in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, and served in the Pacific to the end of the war. He was aboard the U.S.S. Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese formally surrendered, ending World War II.
Chapman had no time to seek out her brother’s marker, but at the World War II Memorial, she gazed across the sky-blue pool and pronounced it “fantastic,” and a fitting memorial to the young men she prepared for war, the flyboy she married, the career army officer, Lt. Col. Denman Scott Chapman, who squired her around the world, her brother and all the 16 million Americans who served in World War II and whom she thinks of “all the time.”
War buddies were ‘helluva bunch of fine guys’
There is a monument atop Tennessee Pass, one that shows the names of the 10th Mountain Division soldiers who died in battle in northern Italy.
Clark Wingate goes to see that monument and read those names in the summer, but it’s hard duty, “because I’ve got faces with those names,” he said. “They never had families, they never had children, they never had to go on this kind of thing” he said of the Honor Flight.
Wingate contributed money to the first flight last year and was considering doing so again, “When it occurred to me, why the hell don’t I go?”
It wasn’t just an issue of convenience, Wingate said.
“I would much rather be here with this bunch of guys than by myself,” he said. After all, during the war, “I thoroughly enjoyed the camaraderie of helluva bunch of fine guys.”
Penicillin saved many soldiers
Robert F. Linnemeyer, now a retired Grand Junction surgeon, served as a U.S. Navy corpsman at the Great Lakes Naval Stations during World War II.
At the time, with 120,000 patients, Great Lakes was the largest hospital in the world, Linnemeyer said.
Penicillin was the key to survival for many of the patients treated at Great Lakes, Linnemeyer said.
But, it wasn’t yet known how to grow it fast enough to keep up with the burgeoning demand that resulted from the many wounds of war.
Penicillin, though, could be reclaimed, so one of the jobs there was to collect patients’ urine and harvest the penicillin to be used again, he said.
It would be no small thing to see the World War II Memorial, Linnemeyer said.
“I’m excited to see the one thing they built, finally, for us.”
Purple Heart from Monte Cassino battle
The first leg of James Williams’ trip to North Africa and Sicily, courtesy of World War II, was out of Placerville on the Galloping Goose, the gasoline-powered railbus that carried mail, passengers and freight through the San Juan Mountains.
Williams had been a uranium miner who wanted to get in the Navy, but ended up in the infantry bound for the battle of Monte Cassino, where he earned a Purple Heart.
“After Cassino, we had to have 122 replacements within the company,” he said.
“Fifteen of them were in my unit.”
Three decades later, in 1974, he took his son, Jim, to Italy to see the places where he fought.
There, he met a German who had been in the same battle and, on reconstructing their memories, figured that the German might well have been shooting at his father, said Williams’ son, Jim, who also accompanied his dad on the Honor Flight.
“They got to be pretty good friends,” Jim Williams said.