GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KJCT News)-- Henry Wheeler is part of a small group of World War II veterans still alive today on the Western Slope.
He’s now 99 years-old. But he was only 19 when he went in as a volunteer in the Australian Army.
“We went into Lebanon and Syria and fought the Vichy French,” says Wheeler ,“We defeated the sixth division of Italians and they finally surrendered in Benghazi,”
Australia, only a population of 8 million in 1939 according to Wheeler, put out four complete divisions of volunteers. His particular division is distinct:“Most Americans went into the Pacific and they fought the Japanese. The ones that went into Europe, they fought the Italians and Germans. But we fought all four enemies: Italy, Germany, Japan and Vichy France,” says Wheeler.
He became the sergeant of his 40-person battalion. And now: “There’s only two of us originals left. They are each 103 years of age,” says Wheeler.
On the Western Slope there are 246 WWII veterans that the VA is currently serving, which may not even account for all of the veterans still alive in the area.
“The WWII veterans; there’s not a lot of them. So we need to make them feel special,” says Licensed Practical Nurse with the VA Community Living Center, Nicki Cameron, “It’s hard to understand what our freedom means to us without seeing people and talking with people who have sacrificed a lot to help us maintain that freedom,”
Wheeler has collected ten honorary medals for his years of service and written a book about his life experiences.
His wife of 75 years, Rachel, was also was a WWII veteran. She served as a Corporal in Israel during the war. She passed away only a few weeks ago.