World War II Veteran, a hero’s journey

A hero’s journey

94-year-old World War II Veteran from Weldon Spring returns from a trip to Europe where he visited the countries where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge

By Brett Auten

The hall inside St. Louis’ Lambert International Airport was strewn with red, white, and blue. Homemade placards, balloons, and a throng of family and travelers. USO representatives, military members, and employees where awaiting the arrival of one man.

Tom Lacey, a 94-year-old World War II Veteran from Weldon Spring, returned home on Sept. 11 after a week-long trip to Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Lacey visited the countries where he fought with the United States Army 75 years ago in the Battle of the Bulge.

A massive water cannon sprayed over Lacey’s United Airlines plane once it touched down. Once he exited the jetway and entered the gate areas where some of his 12 children and plethora of grandchildren were among those smattering him with applause.

“It was absolutely astounding,” Lacey said. “Walking off the plane, it was like being in a fantasy land. It was a complete surprise and everyone involved was so gracious.

Lacey had no idea when his plane landed from his connection in Chicago that all of this was waiting.

“It’s pretty special that we could do this for him, especially on 9/11,” Angela Struckhoff. STL Airport  Operations Senior Coordinator for United Airlines, said. “He is a hero, and he deserves recognition for what he and so many other did during World War II, I’m proud of our station for making it a memorable homecoming.”

During his revisit to Belgium, Lacey had gifts bestowed upon in every village he visited.

“I didn’t realize I was such a rare bird,” Lacey said. “I felt like I was President Roosevelt or something. (Belgians) were shaking my hand and getting their picture taken with me.”

Lacey, who along with 12 children has 32 grandchildren, was joined on the trip to Belgium by one of his daughters. The Louisiana-based National World War II Museum help fund the trip, which included a visit to the Bastogne Museum.

Lacey served with the 99th Infantry Division and participated in numerous battles. The 99th Infantry also played a significant role in the Battle of the Bulge. The 99th suffered 2,524 casualties during that fight, 465 of which were killed in action. 

Encouraged and assisted by family members, Lacey recently wrote a book titled “An Infantryman’s Reflections on World War II.” The book, which is available locally and on Amazon, is a fitting 71-page tribute to all the World War II vets who never got a hero’s welcome when they came back. It talks less about battles, and more about the friends he made and the experiences they had.

“This little book is put together in an effort to give the reader some idea of what infantry was like during those most anxious years,” Lacey wrote in the introduction. “As you can see I have focused on many individuals to tell the story. This is because in life, it is individual people and their accomplishments that make life interesting and worthwhile.”

CUTLINE: Photos courtesy United Airlines and the Lacey family Tom Lacey, a World War II vet and Weldon Springs resident, was greeted with a surprise upon his return from a week-long trip to the Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany. Lacey visited the countries where he fought with the United States Army 75 years ago in the Battle of the Bulge.