‘Joy and respect’ on the ‘trip of a lifetime’ | PostIndependent.com

‘Joy and respect’ on the ‘trip of a lifetime’

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Kelley Cox Post Independent

GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – When three local survivors of the “Greatest Generation” stepped down from an airliner in Grand Junction recently, they were hailed as heroes and showered with emotional plaudits the likes of which they had never seen.

“Everybody kept telling us we were heroes, but I never did look at myself like that,” remembered long-time local Dale Snearly, 88, about what he called “the trip of a lifetime” to the nation’s capital.

“It was a marvelous trip,” agreed Lyle Beattie, 87, a former Glenwood Springs mayor and businessman, now living in Arizona.

“Nobody got sick, and the weather was perfect,” chimed in Oscar McCollum, 90, who, like Snearly, still lives in Glenwood Springs.

The three were among 95 happy military veterans who, on Sept. 21 and 22, were part of the final Western Slope Honor Flight to Washington, D.C, in honor of their service in World War II.

“It was such a joy to see all the honor and respect given to all the men and women who had served their country,” added Dorothy Snearly, who also went on the flight from Grand Junction to Washington, D.C.

The group included veterans ranging in age from about 83 to 100, said McCollum.

Dorothy was Dale’s “keeper,” as she called the attendants assigned to each veteran, formally known as guardians.

All three said they had learned of the Honor Flights through an article in the Post Independent, applied for a berth and been accepted.

“I had a pretty young blonde to be my keeper,” piped up McCollum, getting a smirk from his wife, Lois Ann, who was unable to make the trip.

Beattie’s guardian, he said, was Allen Baugh, husband of a Grand Junction organizer of the Western Slope Honor Flights program.

The veterans were given free passage on a Southwest Airlines plane to Washington, free lodging in Clarion hotels in Grand Junction and in Washington, and a tour of an array of monuments to their generation of warriors and others, with the World War II Memorial as the focal point.

They met with members of the Colorado congressional delegation, former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, a veteran himself, and John Elway, celebrated former quarterback for the Denver Broncos, among others.

It was all part of a Grand Junction-based adjunct to a national Honor Flights program that started in 2005.

“I was totally amazed that the people of Grand Junction have done these five honor flights, although I guess they’ve run out of vets now and the program is over,” said Beattie, who flew up from Arizona to be part of the Colorado flight.

“We’re losing 1,000 veterans of World War II every day,” said Dale Snearly, explaining the sense of urgency behind the Honor Flights program.

Beattie said the reception on their arrival at the airport in Washington was fun, with fire trucks spraying water cannons and dignitaries waiting for the visiting veterans.

All three men marveled at being given a police escort from their hotel to start their tour of the city’s monuments, an escort that they were told included vehicles and people from the official escorts for the president and the vice president.

“That made it extra special,” Beattie said. “It saved us an hour getting across town. We got to see, if I counted them up right, eight different monuments.”

The sights included the Iwo Jima statue, the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Lincoln Memorial and the memorials to the wars in Vietnam and Korea, as well as the National World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004 to honor the 16 million who served in that war.

“But nothing was as memorable as that return to Grand Junction,” Beattie added. “My goodness, the reception in Grand Junction when we got back just blew my mind.”

Hundreds of well-wishers were at the airport to welcome the veterans home, including school children and Scouts who formed an honor guard with flags at the airport’s entrance.

The trip also was an occasion, naturally enough, for these three Glenwood Springs veterans to review some of the memories from the war.

“I fought the war stateside,” Oscar McCollum said. He was a civilian working in map-making and interpretation from 1943 to 1945, working with the Army Map Service at six different field offices around the country.

McCollum started as a draftsman under Capt. Andrew McNally III, whose family already was making maps for America’s growing roads network. He soon rose to become director of those six field offices, and in 1945 was transferred to Washington, D.C.

There, he ultimately went to work for a brand new federal bureau, the Central Intelligence Agency, which was set up as successor to the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) spy network that operated during World War II.

With the CIA, McCollum said, his job included training field agents in the use of maps to gather and interpret information.

After he and Lois Ann were married in 1956, he was sent to the island of Saipan, in the Marianas Islands, for four years as a training officer at a secret base, again instructing agents on how to use maps to their best effect.

“So we had an idyllic four-year honeymoon,” McCollum said with a laugh. “It was nice, very nice.”

Dale Snearly enlisted in 1942, serving in the 20th Air Force division of the Army Air Corps until 1945. His tour of duty also took him to Saipan, after it had been wrested from Japanese control in a three-week battle in June 1944.

He was on the island as part of the support crew for the then-secret B-29 Superfortress bombers that were flying missions over Japan’s home islands.

“I worked in the finance department,” he said. “We were popular one day a month.”

That was on payday, he noted, when they would hand out “about a million dollars,” in cash to roughly 20,000 men and women. The cash shipments were brought over in cargo planes from Honolulu on a regular basis, and then guarded by Snearly and others until payday.

“My fingers got black counting money,” he said.

A short hop away from Saipan was another island, Tinian, where the Enola Gay was based when it delivered the first of America’s two atomic bombs, ending the war and devastating the island nation.

The island of Saipan, 1,200 miles from Japan, had been held by the Japanese since 1922 under a League of Nations mandate. Snearly noted that the invasion’s success was in part due to the use of the men known as Code Talkers, Navajo servicemen who spoke in their own tongue on the radio to confuse enemy listeners.

After graduating from the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corp. at the University of Colorado in Boulder, Lyle Beattie went into the Navy as a lieutenant, junior grade, and served aboard the U.S.S. Lang.

The destroyer became known as the Lucky Lang because, despite action in four of the war’s major Pacific battles – the Marianas, the Letey Gulf, Luzon in the Philippines and Okinawa – it escaped unscathed every time.

“We saw a lot of action, but we never got hit once,” recalled Beattie, who worked mainly as an engineer on board but once was called on to fill in as a machine gunner on deck.

“I liked being up topside, where you could see what was going on,” he said.

The Lucky Lang’s job was bombardment to protect the troops landing during an invasion, and their assignments included the taking of Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Marianas in 1944 – making Saipan a common link for all three of the Glenwood Springs veterans.

Back in Glenwood Springs, sitting on the Snearlys’ back deck, McCollum and Snearly engage in friendly banter as they glance through a book Snearly owns that recalls the B-29 campaign against Japan and trade memories about the Honor Flight.

They showed off American flags donated by Russo’s Honor Bike Gang, signed by every member of the Glenwood Springs-based motorcycle group.

And they displayed letters from admirers that were distributed in an unannounced “mail call” on the airplane home.

“The most important thing in your life in the military was mail call,” Dale Snearly said.

“When they handed out the mail, there was not a dry eye on the airplane,” added Dorothy Snearly.

“Everything was just perfect,” said McCollum. “It was very well planned.”


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