Steamboat honors veterans including three who served in World War II

World War II Navy Veteran Hank Muhme, left, is shown with a fellow sailor in San Diego in 1945. Muhme grew up in Grand County and lived many years in the Yampa Valley.
Muhme family/Courtesy photo

Only 18 years old and just out of high school, Robert “Bob” Smith and Ralph Boggs were some of the millions who answered the call to serve in the U.S. military to join the Allied efforts fighting the Axis powers during World War II.

Smith and Boggs served in the Navy during WWII, as did Henry “Hank” Muhme, who enlisted in the Navy when he was 17 with his father’s written permission. All three veterans have lived at Casey’s Pond in Steamboat Springs for up to four years and have children living in the Yampa Valley.

Family members helped provide information this week to recognize the men for Veterans Day. The trio is among an estimated 1,910 WWII veterans living in Colorado, according to the National WWII Museum website.

Less than 1% of the 16.1 million Americans who served during WW II — or about 119,550 veterans nationwide — are alive today, according to the National WWII Museum. All of those veterans are now in their 90s with an average of 131 dying every day.

Born in Minneapolis, Smith, 98, enlisted in the Navy in June 1943 and completed basic training and communications training learning Morse code in Farragut, Idaho, for 20 weeks. He served as a Radioman Third Class with the 593rd Joint Assault Signal Company first on the USS Sheridan attack transport ship and then on the USS Catskill vehicle landing ship, according to his daughter, Soni Davison, a Steamboat resident.

“They were attached to the 4th Marine Division in the Pacific Theater,” Davison said. “The Philippines, Guam, Okinawa, Saipan and Manila were among the locations visited by his ships.”

Davison said her dad rarely talked about the war after he got home, but he attended reunions every five years for many years with friends from the USS Catskill. He met his wife, Shirley, on a blind date, and the couple were married 65 years, raised five children and later moved to Winter Park where Smith sold real estate.

World War II Navy Veteran Bob Smith, a 98-year-old Steamboat Springs resident at Casey’s Pond, holds a photo of himself as a young man.
Bob Smith/Courtesy photo

Boggs, 99, who grew up on a small farm in Ohio, recalled the story when he and two high school football teammates received their military conscription notices and traveled together to the regional induction center. They promised each other they would stay together and all vowed to choose the Army. But the teenagers were separated during processing, and at the end of the day they had been assigned separately to the Army, Navy and Marines.

Boggs said his larger teammate who had played tackle was assigned to the Army, and Boggs, at only 130 pounds, was assigned to the Navy, where he served three years as a Third Class Boatswain’s Mate or Gunner’s Mate. His first assignment was on a submarine chaser out of Boston serving on a small naval vessel intended for anti-submarine warfare.

“We did what we were told,” Boggs said. “When you are that age, you don’t know enough to be scared. You’re invincible. You’re thinking, ‘I can’t get killed.'”

Asked about his strongest memory of WWII, Boggs remembered being powerfully affected by the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945. He was stationed some 300 miles away.

When stationed on Okinawa Island, Boggs said his company experienced three typhoons while living in 16-foot by 16-foot tents in a cove near the shoreline.

“We spent one night holding and hanging onto our tent — the wind was so strong,” said Boggs, who added that the next morning some transport ships had been washed ashore.

World War II Navy Veteran Ralph Boggs, 99, relaxes during an interview in late October at Casey’s Pond in Steamboat Springs.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

“He has always been a patriot for the United States,” said son Marcus Boggs, who lives in Oak Creek. “He loves the country he would have died for in the war and prays daily for the protection and guidance of this great country.”

Muhme, who turned 96 this week and celebrated with his favorite Oreo ice cream cake, enlisted in the Navy in 1944 at age 17 with written permission from his father and left before finishing high school in Granby, explained his granddaughter Jessie Pennington, a nurse at Casey’s Pond.

“He said he needed to go fight for freedom,” Pennington said.

Muhme finished his schooling while in the Navy as a Seaman First Class. He attended Naval training camp in San Diego for 10 weeks and was deployed to Guiuan on Samar Island in the Philippines, later spending a lot of time helping to rebuild. After the war, the Grand County native and his wife lived in the Yampa Valley for many years.

The men planned to participate in the annual celebration for Veterans Day at 11 a.m. Friday at Casey’s Pond.

When asked what it felt like to come home after WWII, Smith said, “Wonderful! It was good; they bragged about us.”

“It’s nice to be remembered in that way and honored,” Davison said, with a loving squeeze on her dad’s arm.

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