Posted: Sep 26, 2012 6:52 AM by Angela Douglas - MTN News
Updated: Nov 12, 2012 1:24 PM
WASHINGTON, D.C.- It was a war that spanned six continents and claimed the lives of more than 50 million people, including more than 1,500 Montanans.
By the end of World War II, 57,000 Montanans had served in the war, according to the Montana Historical Society.
Now less than 10,000 of those survivors still call Montana home. Because of that statistic, the Big Sky Honor Flight is determined to send as many veterans as possible to Washington D.C. to experience their war memorial.
So far, 183 Montana WWII veterans have participated in the Big Sky Honor Flight's first two trips to the nation's capitol, with 87 aboard the latest flight, and each one holds their own story of bravery, survival, battle and triumph.
Their past holds encounters that no other generation will ever endure, but this week they were honored with an experience of a lifetime.
"Just so wonderful, you can't believe it!" exclaimed Navy veteran Harold Lasater, of Forsyth. "Just great!"
Eastern Montana brothers, Al and Harold Lasater joined the Navy during World War II. Al served on a submarine, while Harold was stationed on a ship.
They served apart, but were thrilled to be on the Big Sky Honor Flight together.
"Pretty good, after all we're both nearing 90-years-old," Al pointed out.
Al signed up in 1943, Harold enlisted in '44. They each have their own war story, but they're both survivors.
"We both survived a big blow," Al recalled. "Two of them, I think, I know I did."
Within the group of Montana WWII vets: Don Held, 102, of Billings. Unlike some of the teenaged recruits, he was drafted as a 32-year-old. Held was married and had two children by that point.
"I felt a very heavy responsibility in that I was a part of that," Held said. "And now I'm a part of this and it happens that I am the oldest of the group. As you see it in perspective, you see that God has been good to our country as well as to us as individuals."
Held feels blessed to have lived a full life, but humbled while touring the war memorials.
"The whole situation is very sobering because it reminds you of times when people were being killed and the result was to save our country," the 102-year-old stated.
These men survived horrific battles and risked everything for our freedom. However, there is a part to WWII that people don't often think about: the role of the women.
Betty Meyer joined the army in 1944, just six days after D-Day.
"Both my brothers were in the service," Meyer said. "I consider us a kind of a military family."
She was based at Camp Beal in California, where she served as a motor pool driver.
"We were treated differently because we were women," Meyer explained. "We weren't accepted as well as the men of course. During WWII it was kind of a foreign concept to have women serve outside of nursing."
Two other female veterans, Geraldine Mihalic and Carley Cromwell, were also aboard the second Honor Flight. Mihalic worked as an army teletype operator, while Cromwell was a Navy nurse.
All three women had important roles during the war, but they commend the men who faced battle.
"It's such a nice feeling to be here with all the WWII vets," said Meyer. "I know that these men have been a lot of places and done a lot of things that they can't even describe."
"You realize that you've been a part of a much, much larger experience," Held explained. "You come to the point where you see if it hadn't have been for this, our United States would not be United States."
It's because of that perspective, that makes the servicemen and women of WWII "The Greatest Generation."