Dale Watts, 94, a Montezuma World War II Veteran and recipient of a certificate for 75 years of continuous membership in the American Legion, is shown with his family at a special event held on Tuesday, Aug. 25 at his home. Pictured are, clockwise: granddaughter, Kate Molyneux holding Cade, Dale’s first great grandchild; Colton Molyneux, Kate’s husband; grandson Nick Watts; sons Mark Watts and Brian Watts and granddaughter, Tressa Watts. Not pictured are: Lisa Watts, wife of Mark; grandson, Samuel Watts; granddaughter, Megan Myers and her husband, Roman Myers. Photo furnished by Ron Hensel.
World War II Veteran Dale Watts, 94, was honored last month with a certificate for 75 years of continuous membership in the American Legion.
An estimated 60 – 70 area veterans, friends, family and dignitaries were on hand at Watt’s home on West Main Street in Montezuma on Tuesday, Aug. 25 to witness the event.
Ron Hensel, commander of the Montezuma American Legion Post 169, presented the certificate to Dale. Others present were Jacki Bolen, Montezuma mayor; Randy Johnson, District 5 Commander; Steve Cranston, Commander of the Deep River American Legion Post 296; and Dave Maxwell, Iowa Representative for House District 76.
Drafted into the U.S. Army within a year of graduating from New Sharon High School in 1943, Watts spent 22 months in the service, all in the South Pacific. His first was in the Philippines before going on to see action in the Battle of Okinawa (April - June 1945) as a mortar division of the weapon’s battalion. He received two battle stars for his service.
Watts told the gathering that after the war, he was shipped to Korea to help with the transfer of power of that country back to the South Korean people. It had been under Japan rule from 1915 – 1945. He spent eight months in Korea, Sept. 1945 – April 1946.
He then boarded a ship headed home with the first stop in Yokohoma, Japan where the soldiers were divided into groups of 15 with an officer to tour the city. The tour included visiting a soldier’s club. Watts said he picked up the guest registry and looked in the back and discovered that a classmate, Russell Ling, of New Sharon had visited the club and worked about 10 minutes away. After receiving permission from his group officer, Watts walked to Ling’s office, only to discover that he was not there.
“I left a note and told him that I would be at the club for another hour,” he recalled.
When he arrived at the club, Ling was there to see him. As the two visited, Ling said another New Sharon classmate, Andy Bandstra, was also stationed in Yokohoma.
After securing a pass from the ship colonel, Watts was able to spend the evening with the two men.
“It is one in a million things that happen to you in life,” he said of the chance meeting with two of his classmates from Iowa who were stationed in Yakohoma. “We had a class reunion 5,000 miles from home.”
After being discharged in April 1946, Watts returned to New Sharon and took over the family produce station. He also joined the local American Legion, following in the footsteps of his father, Kenneth, a World War I veteran.
“My dad earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the only veteran from Mahaska County to do so,” said Watts of his father, who died when he was 14. “He held many offices in his post.”
Watts said his mother, Bertha, a school teacher, ran the produce station through the war with an older brother pitching in on occasion.
“We purchased cream, eggs and poultry from area farmers and sold it,” he said.
Watts ran the business for seven years before deciding to attend business school. The produce station eventually closed.
While completing the 18-month business course, Watts said he was interviewed for a job in Greenland working in the office for a construction company hired to build Thule Air Base. He spent three years in Greenland, 1953 – 1955. Thule was being built as part of the DEW (Defense Early Warning System) Line, a series of radar stations across the arctic, from Alaska through Canada to Greenland and Iceland.
He then spent three years in Calgary Alberta, Canada working in the office of a construction company hired to build roads into the oil fields in northern Canada.
After returning to Iowa in 1959, Watts heard about a group of investors in Montezuma who were building a bowling alley. Watts had an interest in the sport, having helped establish leagues at a bowling alley in New Sharon.
“I came over to watch it being built,” recalled Watts. “I thought maybe one day I could own a bowling alley.”
That day came quicker than expected for the budding businessman. It just happened that Watts knew two of the investors, one of which happened to be his cousin, Keith Watts. The other investors were Dr. Ernest Skare, the local dentist; K.C. Capper and Dean Doonan.
Dale was offered the position of assistant manager at the newly opened Star Lanes and he accepted. The bowling alley opened April 22, 1960. He was named manager one year later and in 1975, he and his late wife, Pat, bought the business outright. The couple met at the bowling alley.
Dale and Pat operated the bowling alley for 38 years, raising their two boys, Mark and Brian, there. And Dale was quite a bowler in his own right, having bowled in 30 national tournaments all over the United States and bowling a 300 games just before he retired.
Watts has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
“Dale Watts is a true American hero who defended our nation in World War II,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sargent, Rodney Morse. “His recognition of 75 years in the American Legion is an honor bestowed to very few.”
“Dale had a nice crowd to honor his 75 years of continuous service to his fellow servicemen and women and our active duty military,” said Montezuma Mayor Jacki Bolen. “His commitment to the American Legion, his country and community are admirable.”
“I felt very honored to receive this recognition,” Watts said.