An honor to serve: Craig veterans young and old share experiences, insights |

An honor to serve: Craig veterans young and old share experiences, insights

World War II Veteran George Lewis has participated in over 1,700 services as a part of the Western Slope Honor Guard.
Linda Booker/Courtesy

On Saturday, the nation will pause to honor and remember the men and women who serve and have served the country in wartime and in peacetime. Veterans alive today have served in military efforts from World War II to ongoing operations in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The mechanisms of war have changed drastically in the past 70 years, but the spirit of service remains much the same.

In honor of Veterans Day, the Craig Press sought out two Craig veterans, one old and one young, to reflect on their military experience.

Name: George Lewis
Age: 92
Grew up: On a ranch in northeast Weld County, just south of Kimball, Nebraska. Moved to Craig in 1943 for school. Lived in Craig about 59 years from 1949 to 2008.
Branch & rank: U.S. Army Air Corps, Buck Sergeant
Years served: October 1943 to May 1946
Stationed at: Naples, Italy; Atlas Mountains, North Africa; Liberia
Currently: Retired in Grand Junction

CP: When did you enlist and what inspired you to join the military?

Lewis: I wanted to be ‘the man in the front of the man that fights.’ My parents wouldn’t sign for me at age 17, so I went into the civil services. That is where I met my wife-to-be, Ruth Woodbury (of Craig). In 1943, I was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Corps. I wasn’t combatant. My job was to get airplanes that were headed into China, India and Burma into a British airport. I was in communications. Ruth was a cadet nurse. If the war would have lasted, she would have outranked me, but I always said she was the general and outranked me anyway.

CP: What learning did you take away from your experience in the military?

Lewis: Lots. I left home at 16. I found ways to make money during the depression. I delivered the Rocky Mountain News in the morning, and though I was not supposed to, I delivered the Denver Post in the afternoon.

The service was beneficial to me, not to a lot of people. They were in combat, and they lost their lives. I never had to kill anyone. I don’t think it would have gone well for me. Mostly I grew up. We were in an outpost and had to do our own maintenance work, so we got books and learned a lot.

CP: What wisdom did you gain from your service?

Lewis: God laughs at those that make plans, but you have to make plans. Murphy’s Law is always involved too.

We helped out each other. I think that set me up to be helpful to others. I realized I was put on this earth, not just for me, but also for other reasons, to help other people. Be as helpful as you can be to anyone you can help.

CP: Is there anything you do to mark Veterans Day each year?

Lewis: I’m a part of the Western Colorado Honor Guard and have done about 1,700 services in Grand Junction since Sept. 2008. I was also an honor guard member in Craig. So I’ve spent most (of them) with the honor guard.

We have a Veterans Day out at Fruita at the beautiful memorial to the Vietnam War. I will go and observe the service. I don’t feel up to being a part of it.

CP: What inspired you to decide to join the military?

Lewis: One out of every eight men were going into the service. It was a forgone conclusion that I was going somewhere in the military. I took the test to get in at age 16.

CP: Is there anything you think people misunderstand about veterans or military service?

Lewis: I guess that if they have never been in the service, then they will never understand it. If I hadn’t been in it, I wouldn’t have understood it. It’s a different life. I was close to becoming an officer; I was too young when I got through basic training.

CP: What kind of appreciation or gestures of gratitude mean the most to you from people?

Lewis: I really appreciate those people that come out, say for instance, to the gatherings. I also appreciate people who get involved in recognizing veterans.

I’ve written my memoirs. I think it’s important to pass it on.

CP: How has warfare changed?

Lewis: There has been quite a change. Then, we were all drafted. Some people who were old enough could join up. When you were drafted you had to ‘Sound off — 1, 2, 3, 4.’ All the threes went to the Navy, all the fours to another branch and that’s how you ended up assigned to a particular branch.

Technology and society have changed so much and so fast. The average person has a tough time with change. I agree to change at any time, if it makes sense. You have to keep a positive attitude. And if you stop doing things when you retire — I’ve been retired for 26 years — and if you stop, it’ll get you. You never want to stop when you retire. You keep going and being involved in things. I think volunteerism is unique. It’s a unique thing in the US. I don’t think there is anywhere where (volunteerism) plays such a big part in life.

Name: Seth Slape
Age: 33
Grew up in: Rangely and Baggs, Wyoming
Branch & rank: U.S. Air Force, E3
Years served: 2002 to 2005
Stationed at: Ramstein Air Base, Germany
Currently: Appraiser and natural resources technician for the Moffat County Assessor’s Office

CP: When did you enlist?

Slape: I signed my enlistment two days before 9/11 happened, so… a couple days after getting home, my dad told me, “I guess you’ll end up going to war, son.” I was still in high school. I enlisted in 2001, went to basic training in 2002 and exited the military in 2005.

CP: What inspired you to join the military?

Slape: My dad was in the Air Force, and his dad was in the Air Force when it became the Air Force from the Army Air Corps. The way I looked at it was that myself or my little brother were going to go into the Air Force and I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life yet. It was a very good learning experience.

CP: What was your role?

Slape: I was a refueler in the Air Force. Like I said, it was pretty darn boring, just refueling planes as they came in. A couple of those months, I was refueling a million or more gallons a month.

Mostly it would be 747s, your big cargo plans that were bringing things from the U.S. down to troops serving on the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, from food to toothpaste.

It’s also where they brought all the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan. It was one of our main hospitals.

CP: What learning or wisdom did you take away from your experience in the military?

Slape: Each branch of the military has its own core values that they drill into you in basic training. In the Air Force, it’s excellence, integrity and service before self, and that’s something that I still try to live my life by. I try to take any job I’m going to do and do it to the best of my ability. I’m going to do it honestly and I’m going to make sure I take care of everything else before I take care of myself.

It helps with being able to look people in the eye and knowing how I’m going to act around them. It’s not something where you walk in wondering how you’re going to approach this problem. You approach every problem the same way, and those core values help a lot with those situations because you understand who you are and what you’re willing to do and what you’re not willing to do.

CP: Is there anything you think people misunderstand about veterans or military service?

Slape: Most veterans went to war to protect their family and their country, they didn’t join up for fun or fame or riches or anything else. They signed up specifically because they wanted to be the shield for the rest of America. They wanted anything bad that was going to happen to happen to them, not to their family or their neighbors.

So when I look at Vietnam vets, Korean vets, even veterans from my generation, I look at them with a lot of respect. When push came to shove, they were willing to take a bullet for the rest of the country.

CP: Anything else you’d like to add?

Slape: I’m just thankful we’ve got a country worth defending, a country worth fighting for.

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