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MEEKER I When their country needed them, they answered the call.
And they changed the world.
But it took nearly 60 years for a national memorial to be built in their honor.
“It made me feel kind of sad (that it took so long for a memorial honoring the men and women who served in World War II to be built), but it’s really something,” said veteran Bruce Mobley of Meeker.
Not that they needed some granite memorial to remind them of what they had accomplished. In typical humble fashion, WWII veterans said they had a job to do, and they simply did it.
“We did save the world, and it was an honor to do so,” said Dick Moyer of Meeker, who served in the Navy. “But none of us did it ourselves. We just took orders and did our job. I never figured we needed a memorial or anything, but it was a nice thing.”
Now, nearly 65 years since the end of World War II, local veterans like Mobley and Moyer were honored Aug. 25-26 with a trip to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials, including the newest one, which is dedicated to those who served during the Second World War.
Aging World War II veterans are dying at a higher rate than they did on the battlefield — 1,200 per day. The purpose of the Western Slope Honor Flight was to make it possible for veterans, who are now in their 80s, to visit the memorial dedicated to their service … while there was still time.
For some, like Mobley, it was his first visit to the nation’s capital.
“I had never been to D.C.,” said Mobley, who was an Army paratrooper and served in the Pacific. “I don’t think it could’ve gone any better.”
While visiting the memorial, Mobley had his photograph taken with former Kansas senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, a World War II veteran himself, who was national chairman of the fundraising campaign for the memorial, which opened in 2004.
“I felt pretty proud,” Mobley said of having his picture taken with the former senator.
Mobley’s daughter Cindy and her family surprised him by traveling from Grand Rapids, Mich., to greet him in Washington and accompany him on a tour of the war memorials.
“I didn’t know they were going to be there,” Mobley said. “When we were riding on the bus (to visit the war memorials), all of them old guys said, ‘How do you rate, getting to sit by a pretty girl?’”
It was a quick trip, with the Western Slope veterans spending one day in D.C., before returning to Grand Junction Regional Airport and a hero’s welcome.
“They said there were more than a thousand people there (to greet the veterans when they returned home),” Mobley said. “The only thing is my arm got tired of shaking so many hands.”
Joe Sullivan of Meeker, who enlisted in the Army Air Corps two days after Pearl Harbor, had visited Washington many times before, but not since the World War II memorial was built. He was touched by the warm reception.
“Actually, it made you feel a little humbled,” said Sullivan, who was accompanied on the trip by Ethel Starbuck.
Added Navy veteran Frank Cooley of Meeker, “Of all the things we saw and did, by far the most important was the welcome home in Grand Junction. The crowd was enthusiastic and waving flags and yelling thank you. It was absolutely the high point of the trip.”
Moyer agreed, adding, “I thought it was marvelous, the reception … I hadn’t expected it at all.”
Upon his return, Moyer was greeted at the airport by his son Larry and his family, who live in Grand Junction.
On a grander scale, the veterans of the Second World War did their part to save the world from fascism. But, individually, Sullivan said, they were just doing their duty.
“I was brought up with the idea if a country is worth living in, it’s worth fighting for,” Sullivan said. “There was no question about it, it was a war we had to win. Or we might be speaking Japanese or German now.”
Added Moyer, “A little patriotism doesn’t hurt anyone; it’s good for the country.”
Brothers Dave and Tom Allen were also among the Western Slope WWII veterans who made the Honor Flight trip. Dave lives in Meeker, while Tom lives in Grand Junction, but he was accompanied on the trip by his son Steve Allen of Meeker. Dave’s son Tim accompanied him.
“It was a good trip,” Steve Allen said of his father, a decorated war veteran who served in the Army. “It was dad’s first time (to D.C.), so it was a good deal. He got to see the new memorial, and he went to Arlington (Cemetery), which was kind of a highlight for a lot of those guys. But dad wasn’t feelin’ too good on the trip. In fact, he’s in the hospital in Grand Junction.”
The trip to D.C. was made even more meaningful for the Allen brothers because it was a first for the two of them.
“It was really great. It was a real tearjerker. It was very emotional. The best thing for me is my brother got to go. That was the best part of it. He was sick, but he went anyway,” said Dave Allen, who served in the Navy during the war. “The good Lord was good to us there. I knew he (brother Tom) didn’t feel good, but he went anyway, and I’m sure glad he did. We finally got to do something together.”
The veterans’ travel expenses for the trip were paid for, thanks to donations from individuals and businesses. Tom Kilduff, commander of Meeker VFW Post 5843, spearheaded the fundraising to send local veterans on the Honor Flight trip.
“We can’t thank Tom enough for putting this thing together and getting us a free ride,” Cooley said.
It was a free ride they more than earned.