Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs Steamboat resident Lloyd Lockhart openly shared with me his remarkable outlook on war, love and life Friday morning, and his story had a profound effect on me.
Imagine a 12-year-old boy, orphaned in early 1930s Steamboat Springs and left to fend for himself. Imagine that boy working hard and saving money and finding love again only to have the attack on Pearl Harbor take place several weeks after he married his sweetheart. Imagine him returning from the Battle of the Bulge and resuming normal married life for another 66 years.
Lloyd, 89, invited me to his home Friday to hear about his wonderful experiences Oct. 5 and 6 on the Western Slope Honor Flight that transported 100 military veterans and 80 aides to Washington, D.C. They visited the World War II Memorial and the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, among other landmarks.
“It was unbelievable what the people in Grand Junction did for us,” Lockhart said. “We left the airport at 6:30 a.m., and we were escorted onto the plane by personal greeters (including some military officers and local dignitaries). There must have been 30 police cars lining the runway with lights flashing when we took off.”
Lockhart’s trip, hosted by several American Legion posts in the Grand Junction area and Lions Club International, was expense free. He paid to take his grandson, James, along as his aide.
“We got up at 4 a.m. the second day and flew home that night, but I never did get tired,” Lockhart said.
Reconnecting with other veterans of his era, visiting poignant memorials in the nation’s capital and being treated like a dignitary all had an effect on Lockhart, but he didn’t become emotional until the return flight touched down in Grand Junction.
“There must have been 1,000 people there to greet us. They were clapping and cheering, and there was a bagpipe band. I have to say the tears came,” he said.
I knew Lloyd had directed artillery fire from behind the infantry during the Battle of the Bulge. He’d told me that they learned to aim for church steeples where the enemy liked to position its guns. Once they zeroed in on the steeple in the center of the little villages, they easily could redirect fire several hundred yards in any direction. As a radioman, Lloyd relayed the requests from infantry officers.
I asked Lloyd whether his experiences in Washington brought him in touch with his feelings about his combat experience and maybe even the loss of comrades. His answer wasn’t what I expected.
“I don’t really have any bad memories of the war,” he said. “I was part of a group. Things happened. That’s life.”
When I told him I didn’t understand how he could be so matter of fact about his experiences, he attempted to explain.
“I was an orphan since I was 12,” Lloyd said. “I never had parents. I was raised differently. I thought differently. I was independent.”
Left to fend for himself, Lloyd had no choice but to take charge of his own life. Adults in the community were looking out for his interests, but there was no adoption, no orphanage, no social services. That’s just the way it was.
“I worked in a restaurant for room and board,” Lloyd said. “But I slept a lot of places. One winter, I slept on a screen porch.”
“How did you stay warm?” I asked.
“Oh, it wasn’t bad. I had to get up by 5 a.m. anyway to light the fires at the restaurant.”
During high school, he swept floors on the side, played basketball and did odd jobs such as shoveling the ice off the principal’s roof.
“When I was a senior, I had $90 in the bank. I announced that I was going to retire,” he said with a sly grin.
Before long, he was courting Annabeth Light — they were married Nov. 20, 1941. Before their love could fully bloom, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.
“I remember I was skiing up on Rabbit Ears Pass with Del Scott and some other fellows that day,” Lloyd recalled. They received the news upon returning to town, and everyone’s life was about to change.
Lloyd, 19, received his draft notice and pleaded for more time because he was so recently married. When Walt Webber started an academy for military radiomen in Steamboat, Lockhart was granted a few months reprieve.
He went into the Army at age 20 and was separated from the love he had found with Annabeth — the love that had been missing from his life as an adolescent.
“I never told anyone this before,” Lloyd said. “I don’t think I even told my wife. During those years after I became an orphan, no one ever said, ‘I love you.’ I never heard those words.”
“Maybe you should go in the other room right now and tell her,” I said.
And he did.
Lloyd and Annabeth will celebrate their 69th wedding anniversary Nov. 20.