Honor flights soar
Three World War II veterans with Poweshiek County ties share their war and honor flight experiences
By J.O. PARKER,
A number of World War II veterans with Poweshiek County ties were among the 1,200 men and woman who participated in three central Iowa honor flights held since August.
Following is a look at three area veterans who took the historic flights.
Bob Kriegel, 82, of Grinnell took part in the most recent honor flight, Nov. 4.
Kriegel was 17 when he joined the service in February 1945, serving in the Navy Seventh Fleet until a ship he was on collided with an Army troop transport on the way to the Philippines.
“They (the two ships) run together and we had to lie over three weeks to a month while the ship was repaired,” recalled Kriegel.
After arriving in the Philippines, Kriegel was moved to the 143rd Seabees, where he served in Samoa until being discharged Aug. 8, 1946. Kriegel said the best part of the flight was having his Navy buddy, Ernie Jones of Newton, with him.
“We went to service together and he wanted us to go on this flight together if we could,” said Kriegel. “He made it possible for us to go.” Kriegel was able to visit the World War II monument, Vietnam Wall, and see the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
“I think everybody on the flight enjoyed it,” he said. “I thought it was good for everybody to get together with the old Veterans. All the people were standing out by the plane and greeting and thanking us for everything we’ve done.”
Bob McCulley, 90, of Brooklyn participated in the first central Iowa honor flight, Aug. 13.
Born in 1919, McCulley grew up southwest of Deep River in Keokuk County. He served in the Army Infantry as a combat solider, and was drafted on July 12, 1941, at age 22.
Following boot camp at Camp Walters, Texas, McCulley landed in New Guinea on his birthday, Feb. 8, 1942, fighting battles along the east coast of the island.
“I spent most of the war in a foxhole,” said McCulley, who has called Brooklyn home since 1948. “I saw lots of combat action during my service.” McCulley was also among the first soldiers to land on shore at Luzon, Philippines.
“From the time we landed in the Philippines, I wore the same clothes for 103 days,” he said. “I did a lot of fighting in the Philippines.” McCulley was also among a small group of elite soldier who trained under Gen. George S. Patton in the Mojave Desert for battle in Africa. After several weeks in the desert, McCulley was sent to Hawaii were he participated in jungle training. He was discharged Nov. 19, 1945, after the war was over.
McCulley said the first honor flight was special. He said the soldiers were touched and honored to be on the flight.
“Even the tourists there recognized our Honor Flight shirts and hugged and thanked us,” said McCulley. “There were a lot of tears shed.”
Dale Watts, 83, of Montezuma took part in the second Honor Flight, Oct. 11.
He was among 500 veterans on the trip, the largest of the three flights. Watts grew up in New Sharon and was drafted in Mahaska County on June 27, 1944. Following basic training at Camp Robinson, Ark., Watts served in the Army Seventh Infantry Division, seeing action in the Philippines and participating in the Battle of Okinawa.
“I landed in Okinawa the day (April 1, 1945) it was invaded,” recalled Watts. “That was April Fools Day and Easter Sunday that year.”
The Battle of Okinawa lasted 82 days, with the Allies suffering more than 50,000 casualties and the Japanese losing more than 100,000 troops. More than 12,000 Allies were killed in action. Watts received two battle stars for his service in the Philippines and Okinawa. He was discharged in April 1946. Watts said the Honor Flight was well organized, and he was thankful for the opportunity to go.
Watts visited the Tomb of the Unknown Solider and changing of the guard at Arlington Cemetery, the John F. Kennedy grave, the Iwo Jima Memorial and World War II memorial. He had his photo taken next to the Okinawa section of the memorial.
Watts said he enjoyed the comraderie among the veterans, and was able to meet a doctor from Oskaloosa who was related to the Steffy family, long-time funeral home directors in Montezuma. “It was a wonderful trip,” said Watts. “There were 500 guys from Iowa that went that day.”
“That is why there is a feeling of urgency to get these guys (World War II veterans) out there to see the memorial,” added his wife, Pat.
UPDATED November 12, 2009 10:27 AM