WORTH THE WAIT
By Gary Fletcher
"It was a precious gift from the VFW," Ann Hayes of Joseph said about the Enterprise Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4307 sending a 20-person delegation to the National World War II Memorial dedication May 29.
It was the first time veteran Clyde Fleenor of Enterprise had flown on a plane since 1946.
It was the first time some of them had been to Washington, D.C.
Chuck Roberts of Enterprise had visited the nation's capital when he was stationed in Boston, but "it's so different now," he said.
In Washington, the visitors were impressed by the sheer size of the memorial.
They could see it from the airplane, Roberts' wife, LaValle, said.
"It was so big; you can't imagine the expanse of it," she said about the "beautiful columns," each with the name of a state and the bronze wreaths and gold-plated stars made in Joseph.
"It really got me how big they were. It was so huge,'' Chuck Roberts said.
"News photos don't do justice to the scale of it. The memorial's elegance is comparable to the Arch de Triumph or the Brandenburg Gate," said Mike Koloski, a Vietnam veteran. Koloski and his wife, Linda, acted as guides for the group.
"I approached this with some trepidation," Koloski said about keeping track of a group ranging in age from the late-70s to 86.
"But, these folks are troopers. I know why we won the war. They were tough and flexible," Koloski said.
The group arrived in Washington Thursday evening and left Sunday afternoon. After returning to Enterprise at 1 a.m. Monday, the vets then went out to conduct local Memorial Day ceremonies, Koloski said.
Having lived in Washington, D.C., the Koloskis knew their way around, but the city was jammed.
"Constitution Avenue was like a parking lot," Koloski said. "Our plans usually ran into road blocks, such as there being no parking.''
When that happened, Paul and Mary Blayney, Koloskis' friends who live in the D.C. area, provided alternatives, Koloski said.
The biggest crowd Koloski had ever seen in the city was at a Fourth of July fireworks show. It took four hours to clear the city afterward.
"This was even bigger. It was amazing," Koloski said.
Koloski said he had a feeling it would be inspiring, but it was even more so than he expected, he said.
The speakers at the dedication ceremony included Tom Brokaw and retired Sen. Bob Dole.
Dole, too, seemed impressed with the crowd. Joking, he said he wished such a crowd had showed up when he was running for president, Koloski said.
President Bush's remarks about the WWII veterans' service provided a perspective with reminders such as the fact that 2,300 sailors were lost on the USS Arizona in the first 15 minutes of the war.
And, on the first day of the Normandy invasion, 23,000 were killed. World War II would go on to claim some 400,000 American lives.
"It was just overwhelming. It would just make a guy want to cry," Chuck Roberts said of the dedication.
During the war, Roberts was a flight engineer and crew chief on the "flying bombs" aircraft laden with a cargo of 100-octane aviation fuel, flying over the "Burma Hump" from India to China.
Last weekend in Washington, Roberts and others were impressed with how respectful and helpful people were.
Despite all the security and traffic, people had a smile on their face, Koloski said.
Younger people, strangers, came up to shake hands and say they appreciated what the veterans did, Hayes said.
"Rolling Thunder" Vietnam vets also said they were thankful to the WWII vets.
"Mister, I want to shake your hand," said a 99-year-old veteran from World War I.
He told Roberts that he lied about his age to get into the Army.
"There were several from (Wallowa County) that storied about their age (during WWII),'' Roberts said.
Young people asked to have their photos taken with the vets. It happened to Roberts seven times, he said.
Younger people also gave up their seats to the visiting vets and their wives.
When two gray-haired women offered to give up their seats, Roberts replied, "I wasn't raised that way."
"See. What'd I tell you about that generation," one woman said to the other.
"It made me feel proud to be part of this generation," Roberts said.
The group spent one day touring.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, LaValle Roberts made a pencil rubbing of her cousin Wayne Eckley's name, and that of their nephew, Tim Strohm.
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., put on a dinner reception for them Friday. It featured Oregon products such as Tillamook Cheese and Hood River fruit.
He greeted Chuck Roberts by name.
"He really set a big table. There was food all over," LaValle Roberts said.
"I was very impressed with Congressman Walden's staff and interns," Hayes said, adding that they were "outstanding compared to other congressmen's staff'' she saw there.
Walden's staff led the visitors on tours of the Capitol building.
"I'll tell you, we saw some sights," Chuck Roberts said.
"It was well worth waiting 62 years for."