EAST WENATCHEE — When Luciene Ott was an armorer for the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War II, he found ways to make plane-mounted guns that jammed more reliable in combat when others could not.
This skill garnered him more than one offer to be promoted from corporal to sergeant, but as the story goes he turned them down because he wanted to continue hands-on work rather than move up to a supervisory role.
On Wednesday, his grandson, Nate Foster, was promoted to colonel in the Washington Air National Guard in a ceremony at Kirby Billingsley Hydro Park near East Wenatchee. The promotion was hosted locally to allow Ott to pin new rank insignia to Foster’s uniform.
Foster’s first act as colonel: to surprise his 99-year-old grandfather with an honorary promotion to sergeant.
“That made a tear flow,” Ott said in an interview after the ceremony.
Foster’s heard the story of the shunned promotions a few times. He thought it would make a fitting show of respect.
“He didn’t know anything about it — I figured he’d say no if I told him,” Foster said.
The two have long shared a tight relationship.
“They have always been close, like gone hunting together — duck hunting was the big thing because Nate seemed to keep missing them,” said Mardi Foster, Nate Foster’s mother and Ott’s daughter. “So it got to be a joke.”
Ott grew up in North Central Washington and joined the Air Corps in 1942. He said his enlistment lasted “three years, three months and 20 days.” Within that, two years were spent in England.
The Air Corps preceded the U.S. Air Force, which was formed in 1947 after World War II.
Ott worked on P-47 planes at Royal Air Force Station Martlesham Heath in southeast England, said Col. Kenneth Borchers with the Air National Guard’s 194th Wing during Foster’s ceremony.
After his WWII service, Ott worked at Alcoa’s Wenatchee Works for more than 30 years and has lived in the same house in East Wenatchee for almost 70 years, Mardi Foster said. He was married to his wife Leila for 73 years before she died last month.
This wasn’t the first time he pinned his grandson in a promotion: He also affixed Foster’s 2nd lieutenant insignia when he earned his officer’s commission in 2000 after graduating from Central Washington University’s ROTC program.
Ott was joined Wednesday by Foster’s father, Chuck Foster, to pin the spread eagles to the shoulders of his coat. Foster’s children, Garret and Sadie, did the same to his shirt.
Foster left active duty in 2005 and is a sergeant with the Kittitas County Sheriff’s Office while serving in the Air National Guard.
A veteran of three deployments to the Middle East — Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 and 2004 — he recalled asking Ott how long he expected his service overseas to last. In Foster’s experience, airmen were told beforehand how long to expect a deployment to last.
Not the case for Ott.
“When you deployed, when did they tell you were coming home?” Foster said in his speech about asking this of his grandfather. “And he looked at me with a straight face and said, ‘Well, when the war’s over.’ “