MASON CITY, Iowa - A Mason City World War II veteran received a fitting send off as he was laid to rest on Monday.
Lt. Col. Robert Welter, who served in the U.S. Air Force, passed away July 21 at his Mason City home at the age of 96.
Jeffrey Welter knows he has big shoes to fill following the passing of his aviator father.
"It's a big hole to fill when the passing of the torch extends from the last remaining patriarch of the family."
In 1943, Robert, who was a student at the University of Iowa at the time, joined the Army Air Corps, which is now the U.S. Air Force, at 19 years of age. He soon became a fighter pilot in the cockpit of a P-51 Mustang, and also served as a flight instructor. After the war, he married Jean Wright, whom he met at a USO dance in Coffeyville, Kansas, finished his degree at the University of Iowa, and worked for the IRS until his retirement in 1982. But he didn't leave his military service behind; he continued in the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel. In addition, he would serve as an umpire for Mason City's Little League, a member of the Knights of Columbus, the American Legion, and Holy Family Church. He also served on the Holy Family Parish Council and the YMCA board.
"He had a real sense of duty and commitment and responsibility not only to the family, but to his responsibility as a citizen of the United States."
Now an architect in the Washington, D.C. area, Jeffrey remembers not only what his Dad taught him in the willingness to expand your horizons, but also the strong worth ethic he instilled in him and his 6 siblings.
"His will, as well as his dominance in his spirit to get things done, and always follow through on his resolutions, and that can-do Midwest attitude, I think, is what was he passed along to his kids. You see a task, you develop a plan, you work the plan, you solve the problem and move on to the next. Never forget where you came from."
Robert was the patriarch of a large, loving family, and organized family reunions over the years that would pull people in from across the country.
"Places such as the Outer Banks [North Carolina] where we had a number of reunions, and Dewey Beach, Delaware."
During his birthday, his family would make it a point to come back to Iowa to make them special occasions every year.
"Everyone would fly home, drive home, and we'd have a great big party. We'd have 30, 40, 50 people show up, basically for those block parties."
And he was an avid traveler as well, going to domestic destinations like Alaska and Hawaii, as well other countries like Australia.
"Every winter, he would go to Hawaii, so he made that a pasttime, that and golf and visiting all of his kids."
Even up until the final days of his life, he remained as sharp as a tack.
"He was mobile, he was active, out on the streets riding his scooter every day. He had undiminished mental faculties, worked the crossword puzzles, sharp as he was 40 years ago."
Now that this aviator has reached his final resting place, Jeffrey has some words to share.
"To Dad, we miss you, and we always will. You will always be the center of our universe. We recognize that we always honored our Father and carried out his wishes, and likewise, he supported us throughout all of our years. We carry that with us, and we pass that along to our offspring, and hope that they'll grow up with the same sense of remembrance, value, commitment to patriotism that you exhibited throughout your entire life and career."
As part of the service, a P-51 Mustang similar to the one Robert piloted during the war circled overhead a few times. The plane is a single seat fighter and fighter bomber that continued to fly missions well after WWII during the Korean War and other conflicts.