NORTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) - World War II Veteran Tom Lacey loves his country and is happy to tell you about it.
“Freedom is everything. It always has been,” said Lacey.
The 94-year-old from Weldon Spring, Missouri, returned home Wednesday to Lambert International Airport after 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.
Lacey said he was astounded by how grateful the people in Belgium were towards him during his visit.
“They are so appreciative, and I got to wondering why that is,” said Lacey. “I got to thinking they lost their freedom for four years and they had a culture built on freedom, and I think that’s the reason it meant so much.”
Lacey had no idea when his plane landed in St. Louis from his connection in Chicago that a surprise was waiting.
“It’s going to be emotional, I’m sure,” said Lacey’s daughter Rose Dunn as she waited at Gate 21 for her dad to land.
A water cannon saluted greeted Lacey's United commercial plane once it touched down.
“I said, ‘They’re trying to wash this airplane or what?’” recalled Lacey.
Once he exited the jet bridge, thoroughly surprised, some of his 12 children and dozens of grandchildren along with complete strangers met him with applause.
“I was overwhelmed. It blew my mind," said Lacey.
Others lined the hall holding American flags through the terminal on his walk to the USO Lounge where Lacey gathered with family.
Lacey recently wrote a book tilted ‘An Infantryman’s Reflections on World War II’.
He was encouraged by his granddaughter Julia Larson to write down some of his experiences in a journal she bought for him before she left for college.
“I think it’s so important our World War II vets get to have their voices heard,” said Larson. “There’s not many of them left and getting to hear what we can is very special.”
All those stories have turned into the book that Lacey’s daughter Mariann Sun helped to put together.
“I think it’s a great tribute to not only my dad, but all the World War II vets who never got a hero’s welcome when they came back,” Sun said.
Lacey said after the trip to Europe, his memories of the Battle of the Bulge are as strong as ever.
“It still brings back memories. I cherish them. They were part of my life,” said Lacey. "I wouldn't trade them for anything."
You can purchase Lacey's book here.