May 26, 2013
They are friends a generation apart, members of the same church and military veterans, although of different branches of the service and very different wars.
Vince Turner, 88, was an Army tank commander in World War II. Seventy years later, his voice breaks talking about a photograph of him and four Army buddies, three of whom didn’t survive the war.
Seventy-five-year old Rod McColm is a Navy veteran of the Cold War. In the fall of 1960, he was on a ship that escorted Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev to New York and the United Nations, where Khrushchev famously delivered a shoe-banging rebuttal to accusations of Soviet hypocrisy.
Turner and McColm, both members of the Bluelick Bible Church, have seen a lot. On June 4, they’ll see the nation’s memorials to its veterans in Washington, D.C., courtesy of Honor Flight Northwest Ohio. The Honor Flight Network, which was founded in 2005, has flown about 81,000 veterans to see the memorials in Washington. McColm has never been to Washington; Turner has but has not seen the memorials.
“We thought that was a pretty nice deal,” McColm said. “I said, if I’m eligible, I’d like to go with Vince so we filled out applications, they accepted them and called us. They’ve been very, very good to us.”
The pair will fly out of Toledo for Washington early on June 4 and return later that day. “I guess they’ll give us the royal treatment,” McColm said. That royal treatment, according to Honor Flight Northwest Ohio’s website, includes “transportation to and from Washington, D.C., bus service to the memorials, all meals and beverages throughout the day. In addition, wheelchairs are available to each veteran making the trip.”
“We’ve had a good time together, enjoyed doing things together, so this is going to be fun,” McColm said. “We’re both looking forward to it.”
Turner and McColm earned their royal treatment.
Turner was drafted into the Army in July 1943 from his hometown of Bozeman, Mont. After basic training in Texas, Turner said, he entered a program designed to send servicemen to college.
“I went to North Georgia College at Dahlonega, Ga., for a semester and then they decided to shut the program down and so we were sent to Camp Gordon, Ga., and assigned to the 10th Armored Division.”
In September 1944, Turner traveled by convoy from New York to England.
“As I remember it took us almost two weeks on the sea because we were in convoy and the convoy couldn’t go any faster than the slowest ship,” Turner said. “And the slowest ship was about 15 knots.”
The day after landing in Plymouth, England, Turner’s unit was transported to Cherbourg, France.
“We initially went into combat in eastern France near a town called Metz,” Turner said. “After a few missions into combat we were pulled back into a rest area and we thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to spend the winter in this rest area.’”
That thought didn’t survive. In mid-December 1944, the Germans launched a major offensive through the heavily forested Ardennes.
“We moved out and headed toward Belgium and that’s where we got into the Battle of the Bulge. We replaced units that were just devastated, being overrun by the Germans. We actually held our position in Bastogne and caused the Germans to bypass the town. We were surrounded for a number of days before some artillery units broke through and freed us.”
After Bastogne, Turner’s unit moved into Germany, ending up in Bavaria when the war ended. For a few months after the war, Turner’s unit worked to keep refugees from clogging the needed roads.
Turner was on a train to Liege, Belgium, bound eventually for the Pacific, when the war with Japan ended, he said. He was then assigned to the occupation forces “and really didn’t like it,” Turner said, so he and a couple of buddies applied for and were accepted in an Army sponsored college program in England.
“We were there one semester and they decided to close that program down,” he said.
On the transport ship back to the United States, Turner was reunited with “all the rest of the 10th Armored Division that I’d served with in combat. Three days later we were back in the States and a couple days later I was discharged from Camp McCoy, Wis.”
Turner returned to Bozeman in January 1946 and the following fall entered an industrial engineering program at Montana State College. In 1950, he took a job with a consulting engineering firm in Chicago, where he received an advanced degree in industrial engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.
Turner and his wife, Ruth, came to Lima after he accepted a job at Westinghouse.
“I spent 33 years with them," he said. "It was a wonderful job. I couldn’t ask for anything better.”
McColm, a native of Canada, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1958.
“I wasn’t even an American citizen at the time,” McColm said. “I had to take out a declaration of intention of becoming a citizen of the United States. It was a good opportunity for me education-wise, so I joined. Three years later I became an American citizen.”
McColm was a storekeeper and was on three cruises on the carrier USS Shangri La. After cruises to Asia and South America, the Shangri La was sent to the North Atlantic where it met a Soviet ship carrying Khrushchev to New York.
“If you remember in your history books, he took his shoe off and banged it on the table,” McColm said. “It was us who got him there.”
McColm was then assigned to an air anti-submarine squadron in Key West, Fla.
“At that time, Russia was coming in to Cuba and setting up their missiles, pointing them at the United States," he said. "All sorts of U.S. paratroopers and that kind of thing came in. They were like snowflakes coming down, there were so many of them.”
After his discharge, McColm returned to the Detroit area where he met his wife, Mary Ann. McColm at that time was working in the trucking industry and was assigned to manage a terminal in Sidney.
“I wanted the two children I had to go to a Christian school and the one that I found was best at the time was Temple Christian,” he said.
Like Turner, McColm became a Lima resident.