WASHINGTON, D.C. — In the shadow of the black granite wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Sunday afternoon, Doris Adolph remembered another war.
She was with the Women’s Army Corps, working in a military hospital in San Francisco. Her longtime boyfriend, Al Adolph, was serving with the Military Police in Europe. She was born in Melstone, he in Roundup. Once he sent her perfume from Paris.
“I’d never had perfume like that before, and never since,” she said.
They were married in San Francisco on April 6, 1946, two days after the Army Day parade that Al marched in.
They are still together, living on their ranch outside of Roundup, and they are the only married couple visiting Washington this weekend as part of the fourth Big Sky Honor Flight.
They and 82 other World War II veterans are here for a two-day all-expenses-paid trip to see the World War II Memorial and other sights in the nation’s capital.
They received a water cannon salute from Billings firefighters on their departure, and a similar salute from Washington, D.C., firefighters on their arrival.
They were sent off by well-wishers and greeted in Washington by flag-waving families, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and the Community Band of Mount Vernon.
At the Lincoln Memorial, clusters of eighth-graders from a school in Illinois gathered around the Montana vets, listening to their stories with wide-eyed wonder.
Maurice Shoemaker, a veteran from Thompson Falls, found it all a bit overwhelming, and a lot of fun.
“I’m not used to this. I’ve got to do it more often,” he said.
This was a group that deserved the attention. They had so many stories to tell.
There was former Montana Gov. Tim Babcock, who landed in Europe soon after the soldiers who hit the ground on D-Day. He was a platoon runner, the soldier who went for help when his unit was pinned down.
“I must have done something right,” he said. “I got a Bronze Star. A Bronze Star and three battle stars.”
There was Charles Bullis of Park City. He served as a photo lab technician in Australia, among other places, and it was there he made a print, from the original negative, of what would become the iconic photograph of Gen. Douglas MacArthur wading ashore upon his return to the Philippines in 1944.
Bullis doesn’t pretend to have noticed anything significant about the photo at the time.
“It was just another one,” he said. “We did hundreds of ’em every day.”
There was Oliver Germann of Bozeman, who was living in Sheridan, Wyo., when he took a bus to Kansas to enlist. He served as a tail gunner on a B-24 bomber.
He flew 19 missions, the last of which was the hottest. On a bombing raid over Italy, three German fighter squadrons intercepted them on their return, and Germann said he shot down the first two planes that came after his B-24.
He toured the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, too, where the names of 58,000 dead and missing American soldiers are carved on granite slabs.
Germann, pushed along in a wheelchair, studied the wall and asked, “All them died in the war? My, oh my.”
But then he remembered a significant fact — that 58,000 was also the number of American airmen who gave their lives in World War II.
There was also Leo Staat of Stevensville, a short, lean veteran with a white beard and ponytail. The vets were advised to take the elevator if they wanted to go up to see the Lincoln Memorial, but Staat marched up the stairs and down again, and he was barely winded.
Asked how he stayed in such good shape, the 85-year-old answered, “I work my butt off.” And he’s still busy, building greenhouses.
And what of the Adolphs of Roundup? Well, this wasn’t their first trip to Washington, D.C.
Al Adolph was one of eight directors of the 1989 Montana Centennial Cattle Drive, and the drive started on his ranch two miles east of Roundup.
When Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, Adolph and the other seven directors of the cattle rode horses in the inaugural parade. Doris, for her part, rode in the Billings Trolley, which was also part of the parade.