100-year-old Iowa WWII vet honors West Point graduate grandson
John Neu, a 100-year-old World War II veteran who lives in Des Moines pins the second lieutenant's bar on the shoulder of his grandson, Joseph Anchondo, a recent the United States Military Academy graduate.Buy Photo
John Neu, left, and Lois Neu, in their Army dress uniforms during World War II. John served as a pilot. Lois served as a nurse. John is 100. Lois is 96. The couple has been married 75 years.
John Neu pinned a second lieutenant's bar to his grandson's right shoulder. Lois Neu pinned a bar to Anchondo's left.
Anchondo's girlfriend, Nikita Price, a senior at West Point, gave her beau his first official salute. Then she followed with a kiss, which may not be standard Army procedure but seemed suited for the occasion.
"It was very important to me that this happened," Anchondo said. "I'm proud to serve our nation and continue the legacy of Grandpa and Grandma."
Service runs deep in Anchondo's family. His father, Robert Anchondo, served 23 years in the Army in the 1970s and '80s.
His older sister, Louisa, also graduated from West Point.
The U.S. military has changed so much since the Neus served during World War II, which ended 71 years ago this September.
John Neu was drafted, but the draft is long gone. Anchondo volunteered, as do all members serving in the nation's armed services.
John Neu saw the horrors of war up close. He towed a glider on D-Day — the invasion of Germany-occupied France that ultimately turned the war in favor of the Allies in the European front.
He remembers looking out his window at the line of ships speeding toward Normandy. The air around the plane was filled with tracer rounds and anti-aircraft flak.
John Neu thought he would die that day. But he survived and lived a long life, working as an engineer for Ford Aircraft, American Bosh, Hallicrafters and other companies.Buy Photo
Lois Neu, 96, who served as a nurse during World War II, pins a second lieutenat's bar to the uniform of her grandson, Joseph Anchondo, a recent graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
Lois Neu's time in the war was cut short after a chance encounter with her husband in Rouen, France. John Neu got a buddy to take him from England to France so he could visit his wife, whom he'd met at a basketball game in Warrenville, Ill., two years earlier.
John Neu connected with his wife at the 179th General Hospital, which operated out of a converted hotel.
"I was a first lieutenant at the time and had my own room," Lois Neu recalled to me about a year ago. "Not long after that, I was sent back to the states. Nine months later, our daughter Jeanne was born."
Now the baton of service has been handed down to a third generation. The Neus' grandson begins his service at a time when America is still at war in Afghanistan, the longest conflict in U.S. history.
John Neu seemed acutely aware of this when he addressed the crowd of family and friends after pinning the bars to his grandson's shoulders.
"There are times that are going to be tough to handle," the old soldier said. "I wouldn't have done it freely. Congratulations to you, and may God bless you."Buy Photo
Daniel P. Finney, metro columnist for the Des Moines Register. Follow him at @newsmanone on Twitter.
Daniel P. Finney, the Register's Metro Voice columnist, is a Drake University alumnus who grew up in Winterset and east Des Moines. Reach him at 515-284-8144 or email@example.com. Twitter: @newsmanone.
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