World War II veteran's still living look with disbelief at the tragic events that engulfed downtown Charlottesville on August 11 and 12. They wonder what happened to the America they fought for in the 1940s and tried to build into a world respected country since 1945. Their heroic efforts to rid Europe of Nazism and in Asia of Japan's brutal suppression of neighboring peoples is in stark contrast to the Nazi symbols and white supremacist banners at the University of Virginia and on the streets of Charlottesville. How are we to answer three combat veterans living in Charlottesville who ask why these things happened in our quiet community? Let's look briefly at their stories and ask whether Americans are prepared today to defend their country if needed.
Bascom (Bas) Lockett, 93, piloted B-24 bombers on 40 missions against Japanese installations in the Pacific during 1944 and 1945 and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. He was born and raised in Bristol, Virginia, and was enrolled at Virginia Military Institute when the war broke out. Bas soon joined the Army Air Corps's pilot training program and in January 1944 received his wings and a commission as 2nd lieutenant. He then married his high school sweetheart, Phyllis, and three months later his squadron deployed to the Pacific. Bas says he never lost a plane, "but we had some close calls."
After the war, Bas stayed in the Air Force and was stationed for a time in Virginia, before leaving the military in 1952. He spent the next twenty-five years at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Washington where he became associated with the Office of Supersonic Transportation (SST). He then became Deputy Director of Airport Services in the U.S. In early 1970s, Bas was in Charlottesville to attend an executive training course at Federal Executive Institute. In the 1980s, Bas joined an engineering firm located in Alexandria, Virginia,
The Lockets lived in the Mount Vernon area of northern Virginia for four decades until Bas retired in 1999. They came to Charlottesville in 2004 and have resided at Westminster-Canterbury for thirteen years. Bascom and Phyllis Lockett have been married for 73 years.
William (Bill) Collier, 96, was born in Washington State in 1921 where his father was stationed as an army officer. After moving around to several army posts and attending schools in several states, Bill's family moved to China in 1929 when his father was assigned to the U.S. garrison in the interior. Bill finished high school in Massachusetts and won a scholarship to MIT in 1941. When the war started, he joined the Army reserves and received a commission as 2nd lieutenant in March 1942. He went ashore in Normandy three weeks after the initial D-Day landings and fought across France as part of General Patton's Third Army. Bill was wounded, but after a brief hospitalization he fought across central Germany. His unit ended up at the Czech border in May 1945 and spent the next two years with U.S. occupation forces in Austria.
Bill tells the story of a surprise meeting with his father, then a colonel, while on duty in northern France. It was a brief meeting, he said, no lunch or let up in his duties. In 1945 they met again. His father, now a general, met him at Metz, France, and Bill says they had a much needed rest in Paris. Bill decided to make the Army a career and retired as a colonel in 1971.
Bill and his wife, Janet, whom he met after the war, were married in 1949. After his retirement, they bought a farm in Orange County, Virginia, and raised cattle for thirty years. The Colliers moved into WCBR in 2004. Janet died in 2008, after 57 years of marriage.
Kent Lee, 94, was born and raised in rural South Carolina and enlisted in the Navy in 1940 as a machinist mate. When the war came, he passed exams for the Navy's V-5 pilot training program and in 1943 received his wings and a commission as ensign. During 1944 and 1945, Kent served on the carrier USS Essex in the Pacific and flew bombing missions and fighter sorties "nearly every day," he says. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945. He met his wife, Mary Edith (Mimi), in San Francisco, and they married in 1948.
After the war, Kent stayed in the Navy and was sent to Columbia University for two years where he excelled in engineering. After several challenging Navy assignments, in 1967 he became captain (skipper) of the USS Enterprise, a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that operated in the Pacific during the Vietnam War. Kent was then promoted to admiral, and in 1973 he became Director of the Navy's Air Systems Command, a major Pentagon assignment.
After his retirement as a vice admiral in 1976, Kent and Mimi bought a farm in northern Albemarle County, raised cattle, and "provided a "wonderful home for our children and grandchildren to visit." They moved to Westminster-Canterbury in 2004. Regrettably, Admiral Lee died peacefully at WCBR on August 11.
These are three remarkable men who fought to win World War II, and enabled the United States to emerge in 1945 as the most respected power in the world. We look back today in awe of their achievement.
File last modified on Friday, 27-JUL-2017 8:47 AM EST