Veterans see memorial to war, Honor Flights

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—World War II veterans representing the different branches of the military and each of the five Western Slope Honor Flights present a memorial wreath during the unveiling of the World War II memorial Sunday at Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado. The veterans who presented the wreath were Army veteran Jesse Cox, representing the first Honor Flight; Navy veteran Joseph Farrell, representing the second flight; Marine veteran James Ball, the fifth flight; Merchant Marine veteran Glenn Dennis, the fourth flight; Army Air Corps veteran Richard Zell, the first flight; and Coast Guard veteran Joseph Leo, the third flight.

When the flag passed by, the old soldiers stood. Some, with baseball caps held over their hearts. Some, at attention.

Herb High — honorably discharged these 67 years — saluted. His right shoulder, after 90 years of use, is wearing out, so holding hand to forehead is harder than when he was a master sergeant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps.

So, he wrapped his left hand around his right wrist and held his salute where it needed to be, as the colors passed by. His clear blue eyes were unwavering on the symbol of what he’d fought for, what all the old soldiers had fought for.

Sunday they remembered — battles fought and victories won, friends lost and not forgotten — and a community remembered what they’d accomplished. As a culmination to the five Western Slope Honor Flights, a World War II memorial was unveiled and dedicated at Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado.

The memorial is a capstone to the five flights made between 2009 and 2011, when 530 World War II veterans from this area flew to Washington, D.C., to see the nation’s memorial to their war.

“Our generous community provided the nearly $700,000 necessary to make this dream a reality,” said Kevin Wodlinger, the founder of Western Slope Honor Flight.

With the little left over and some community donations, craftsmen at Carlson Memorials carved a granite memorial commemorating the honor flights and the veterans who “came when their country called,” said Dick Gigliotti, director of Veterans Memorial Cemetery of Western Colorado. “Our World War II veterans saved the world in the most literal sense. They wanted no reward, no recognition, no praise for doing what they considered their duty.”

Of the hundreds who attended Sunday’s ceremony, dozens were World War II veterans, many of whom had gone on one of the five honor flights. They were the soldiers who lost friends on the battlefield, who came back home and went back to work almost the very next day, who rebuilt America, who rarely talked about their experiences in war.

Carl Wahlberg, a retired Colorado Mesa University administrator who served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1943 to 1946, went on the fifth honor flight and said it was a powerful experience. As a souvenir of the trip, he received a small U.S. flag, which hung above the desk in his study.

Every morning, he told the assembled audience Sunday, as a sort of meditation, he looks at it and says, “Thank you for this beautiful day and thank you for the U.S.A.”

He asked the audience to say it with him, and the old soldiers did — and they were thankful.


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