A brave and humble Spokane Valley Veteran who gave his country time and a half.

Posted: May 30, 2011 in Spokane Valley Folks
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This is a story that I was so fortunate to get from Harold Buelow a few years ago. He made it to his 90 birthday, but that was his last. Remember as you read this that Harold was doing a job that on certain missions he only had a 50/50 chance of landing safely back where he started. It was as risky as it got.

We would not be enjoying our American lifestyle and freedom if not for men like Harold Buelow who put his life on the line, and gave up five years of his young adulthood to ensure that WWII was won by America and it’s allies. Many of us can remember Buelow’s Five and Dime in Opportunity, and the small, soft-spoken man who ran the store from1949 to 1976, but few know the debt we owe this courageous veteran pilot who volunteered to fly 33 missions more than his country asked of him.
Harold’s early life in Dubuque, Iowa was a bleak mixture of a family torn apart by alcoholism living in a nation struggling through the Great Depression. In 1925, at age 6, Harold went to live with an aunt after his mother left with one of his younger brothers. It would be 61 years before he and his two brothers left behind would find their long lost brother. They never saw their mother again. “ We never held it against my mother,” he said recently at his Valley home, “ She had it hard.”
Not having the resources after graduation in 1937 to go to college, Harold found work in a variety store and then moved to Milwaukee to work at a Woolworth’s. While there, he was drafted and found his way into pilot school. It turned out that he was a natural, surviving months of arduous training designed to weed out the ones who did not have the right stuff.
“I always had an inferiority complex because of my family splitting up,” he said, “ But once I got my wings, I thought, man, I’m just as good as anybody else.”
He handled his scariest test in training with flying colors. “You had to line up above these railroad tracks and drop nose first into a spin three times and come out in line with those tracks,” he said, “ Well, I did that alright. Flying takes a knack, and I just had it.”
Harold was shipped to Liverpool two months prior to the invasion of Normandy and so he did not participate. “ They did not let the new pilots go over there ,” he said, “which was fine by me, because I did not like the idea of flying across 28 miles of water.” But soon Harold’s division was in France supporting Patton’s troops as they ran the German’s out of the country.
“We shot everything that moved. We even wiped out any building that was big enough to hold a vehicle,” he said, explaining that he flew his P47 Thunderbolt fighter plane in a four man formation. The planes were used for dive bombing and strafing, each equipped with eight 50 caliber machine guns with 400 rounds apiece.
“If we saw a lone motorcycle messenger, we took the poor little guy out. It was awful,” he said, adding that after the war he never had any desire to go hunting.
At the beginning of the war, a pilot was only required to fly 35 missions. Later it was extended to 60. Upon reaching that mark, Harold recieved two weeks R & R in England and then chose to go back at it for another 33 missions. Harold, who was awarded several medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross, had reached the rank of Captain when the Germans surrendered. “ That put me out of a job,” he said, “ and I was glad to be out of a job.”

And so Harold left Europe and his fighter plane, which he had named “ Laura” after the girl he had fallen in love with two years before while training near Vancouver, Washington. Feeling as though he had pressed his luck in the air long enough, Harold left the service and chose not to go into airline piloting which many of his fellow fighter pilots did at that time. He chose instead to consummate his long distance romance and re-enter civilian life where he had left off.
“I called her as soon as I got back and I said ‘Hello, sweetheart,’ and she said ‘who is this?’ and I said ‘who in the hell else is calling you sweetheart these days besides me?” he said with a laugh. Harold had nothing to worry about. They were married 12 days later.
“She would often tease me that I got off with a cheap courtship because of free mail,” he said smiling, “but I would remind her that I I always sent my letters back to her Air Mail which cost 6 cents. I was a big spender!”
With the help of Laura’s parents, the newlyweds moved to the Spokane Valley in 1946
and bought a variety store from Gus Thue in the row of old brick buildings located on the southwest corner of Sprague and Pines. They called their new place Buelow’s Five and Dime.
It was a different world and a different Valley back then. At that time, life in Opportunity revolved around that row of stores. There were three grocery stores there, including an IGA store on the east end and the Rice’s had one further to the west next to their meat market. Marty’s Toyland, Halpin’s, Sig’s Tavern, a garden store, and the Post Office all did business side by side along with Mom’s Café, a favorite ice cream parlor.
Grandpa Peters worked as a young man there at Wade’s Electric before later opening Peter’s Hardware a few doors down. Directly north across the street was a lumberyard where another young man named Cecil Cleveland worked. Cecil would soon start his own business, Valley Bestway, which, like Peter’s, is still serving the Valley.
In a hall above the stores, The Odd Fellows Society was in it’s heyday, and the Rebecca club, a social group for women, held their meetings nearby. The township hall was at the end of the row where the Valley Museum is now located.
In the midst of all this commerce and social activity, Harold sold housewares, glasswares, sewing notions, greeting cards and lots of candy from his Five and Dime store, affording him a livelihood to raise five children. He estimates that prices have increased tenfold from 1956 when he expanded his store from a single 20’ store space to 40’. “I remember buying 1×12 pine for shelving at the lumberyard and just carrying it across the street,” he said, “It was Highway 20 back then.”
As progress came down the road, the big chains pushed mom and pop businesses like Buelow’s out of our lives and into our memories. Ernst and Pay N Save sprang up across the street where the old lumberyard had been. Skaggs loomed down at the corner of University and Sprague across the street from University Shopping Center. Their time, like Buelow’s and most of the rest at the old Opportunity shopping center, came and went.
But Harold is still with us at 89, living in the same home on Bates road that he bought for $23,000 in 1960. It is the home where they raised their family and where Laura, who passed away 2 years ago after 61 years of marriage, raised as many as 3,000 Irises at a time.
“You know she used to get after me in our later years when I would start talking about the war.,” he said. “She would say, ‘Now there you go again, going on and on. When you came back from the war, you wouldn’t talk about it at all.’ And I would say, ‘that’s because back then I just wanted to get on with my life, but now we are history.”
As taxes and gas prices nickel and dime us to death, we still need to count our blessings and thank God for Harold and the men of his generation who gave so much in order that we Americans could have a proud history and a bright future.

To find other profiles on Spokane Valley people, click here.

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