STEELEVILLE, Mo. — Two teenagers left their St. Louis homes in the mid-1950’s to join the Marines. They were strangers, turned Marine brothers and now are forever friends.
The two Missouri men never could have imagined how parallel their lives would become.
“We probably were at football games in our high school years not knowing each other,” said Walter ‘Wally’ Lahm.
More than 60 years after they first became friends as young Marines, fate brought them back together at a Steelville, Missouri, bowling alley.
Wally attended McKinley High School and left after his sophomore year to join the United States Marine Corps. Daniell ‘Dan’ Neill went to Cleveland High School in St. Louis and also left after his sophomore year to become a Marine.
Wally enlisted in August 1954. Dan in August 1955. Both went through training in San Diego and ended up assigned to the USS Hancock based out of Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii. The two were on the same squadron and both were plane captains working on F2H4 Banshees.
Wally was an avid photographer and documented their time as young Marines.
The two attended training in Northern California together and Wally has photographs he took of Dan and their other buddies while they visited San Francisco checking out the cable cars. Both left the Marines in 1958. Dan and Wally were discharged from the Marine Corps Air Station El Toro in California.
The men never spoke again until 61 years later.
“I didn’t know who he was,” said Dan. Wally added, “We didn’t recognize each other.”
The two are part of a traveling Senior League for bowlers. They likely bowled at the same location for months without knowing they were there, until one day at the bowling alley in Steelville.
Wally was wearing the Marine Corps. logo and so was Dan. The two spoke and soon realized they were not strangers. A few questions into their conversation they figured out they both were stationed in Hawaii.
“He said, ‘do you remember a guy by the name of Wally Lahm?’ recalled Dan. “He said, ‘I’m Wally’! ”
Then Dan responded with the same question.
“I said. ‘Do you remember Dan O’Neill?’ I said, ‘I’m Dan’!” recalled Dan.
“I just said, ‘Oh my gosh!’ What more can you say?” Wally said.
The two have now enjoyed reconnecting and meeting each other’s families.
“When you get in the service, you’ve got buddies and you guys got to look out for each other, you grow up real quick,” said Wally.
They have endless similarities in their eight decades of life. Wally is now 81 and Dan is 80-years-old.
“Our lives have been so parallel,” said Wally.
Both said they worked briefly at McDonnell Douglas after leaving the Marines, likely overlapping their time there. They each worked in printing, Wally with the Post-Dispatch and Dan had a printing business in St. Charles.
Wally now lives in High Ridge and Dan in Rolla. Just about 85 miles separate the two.
“I tell everybody I was halfway around the world and back home before I was 22,” recalled Wally.
Decades later, two young men who traveled the world together are now enjoying each other’s friendship back home.