In January 1944, during World War II, Lowell Rose, Archbold, was a 22-year-old US Navy gunner aboard the merchant marine ship SS Samuel Ashe.
The Ashe, with a cargo of 500 Allied soldiers, was off the beachhead at Anzio, Italy. The Allies landed at Anzio to break up a stalemate in the Italian Campaign.
Just over 68 years later, Rose, a 90-year-old cabinet maker, father of three, grandfather of seven, and great-grandfather to six, was honored for his service to his country by Honor Flight of Northwest Ohio.
The non-profit group raises funds to charter planes to fly WWII veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the WWII Memorial, which was completed and opened to the public in 2004.
“An application came in the mail. I thought, ‘Well, it’s just another one of those government deals,’” Rose said.
“Two days later, I got a call from a retired Navy man from Toledo. He said, ‘I understand you were a Navy man,’” and asked Rose if he wanted to go on the flight.
“I said I’d like to go, but I’m 90 years old. I can’t walk very far,” he said.
The caller said, “We’ll take care of everything.”
And they did.
Rose said he had to be ready to go at 5:15 am the morning of Wednesday, June 13. At the appointed time, he was standing at the end of his driveway when a limousine pulled up.
“It was the first time I’d ever been in one of them,” he said.
The limo whisked him to Toledo Express Airport, where it sailed past other cars waiting in line and deposited him in front of a hanger where people were gathering for the flight.
“They had a 25-piece band playing for us,” he said.
As the plane taxied out for takeoff, two fire trucks shot large arcs of water, a salute to those aboard the plane. The salute was repeated upon arrival in Washington.
Rose said each veteran aboard an Honor Flight is accompanied by a “guardian” who spends the day with them. Guardians pay their own way for each trip.
As they drove through the streets of Washington, “I don’t know for how many blocks, but people lined the sidewalks.
“Everyone would want to shake your hand,” he said.
Rose described the WWII Memorial as “awesome.”
“That’s exactly the word I used,” he said.
The veterans were also taken to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, to see the “changing of the guard” ceremony.
The remains of unidentifi ed soldiers from World Wars I and II and the Korean Conflict are interred at the tomb site, which has been guarded continuously since 1937.
The “changing of the guard” ceremony is carried out with utmost military precision.
“They didn’t miss a beat,” Rose said.
“I was thrilled to be there.”
During his day in Washington, Rose said volunteers with Honor Flight urged the veterans to drink plenty of water, “and they fed us constantly.”
He was back at home in Archbold by 11 pm.
As he described his day to his wife, Ilah, Rose said she told him she had goose bumps.
On the first night at Anzio, Rose was manning his three-inch, 50-caliber gun, when he spotted a light in the sky.
It was a German Fritz-X glide bomb. Dropped from a plane, it was guided by a radio operator in the plane to hit a targeted ship.
Rose, who was wearing a headset to communicate with his commanding offi cer, called in to report he had sighted the plane that dropped the bomb. The commander ordered him to start firing.
Rose aimed and fired. His first shot hit the plane (which he credited as much to luck as anything else) at the joint between a wing and fuselage, blowing the wing off.
As the plane fell, some of the German crewmen parachuted to safety.
Some didn’t. They were still in the plane when it crashed on the beach.
In the 68 years since that night off the Italian coast, “I don’t think I’ve told that story more than eight times.
“I’m not proud of it. I got a presidential citation. How could I get a citation for killing people?” he asked.
He said those around him consoled him, pointing out that if he didn’t shoot down the plane, they might have killed him with their bomb.
“There had to be somebody (to shoot the plane down),” he said.
“Those guys in the plane were in the same situation I was in.”
Rose said it was nice to be recognized for service to his country through Honor Flight.
Referring to his wartime experiences, Rose said, “I just hope my great-grandkids don’t have to go through this.”