Last weekend’s Memorial Day had many of us doing numerous activities in my small town, including decorating our yards with flags to commemorate those who have served the country in some special way. My home was the same.
With the 3-day weekend, many were out-and-about: shopping at the Walmart, ordering take-out at local restaurants, walking about our recently-opened state park or having family cook-outs in back yards . Others were deep in thought, remembering loved ones who have left us or visiting local cemeteries to place military service flags and mementoes near gravestones of those we hold dear.
My mother and I managed our own little trips which included several of the ones mentioned above.
We began with a drive to Rural King to load up on birdseed, squirrel corn, and a few flowers.
Aside from the dog and bird supply aisles, we cruised by the garden decor items. There we found numerous patriotic lawn ornaments, including a red-white-and-blue metal star which we purchased as a reminder of my dad, who served as a US Marine.
Tribute to a US Marine, My Dad
Most in my hometown community know of Bill Wieck, my dad, as a beloved high school US History and Civics teacher. He began his teaching career in 1961 at Marshall High School
He taught for nearly 35 years before retiring.
His military service was recognized when he became an active member of our local American Legion Post 90. In fact, it was my father who was often asked to give the message every year for the American Legion’s Memorial Day commemoration service. And in later years, he was given a lifetime membership to the American Legion by the Post #90 members in Marshall.
My Dad’s Military Service: A story of Strength and Spirit
My father, William (Bill) Wieck, joined the Marines straight out of high school. His many learning difficulties led to very low grades in school, including his poor reading skills. However, his athleticism was one to be in awe of. He excelled at high school football and was an excellent swimmer. Such a strong, fit young man was just what the Marines were looking for. He never considered himself destined for further education and the military seemed a good option, especially as his father had served in the army during WW 1. So in 1953, right after his high school graduation, he enlisted in the US Marine Corps and was sent to San Diego for boot camp.
His outstanding swimming ability and marksmanship put him on track to be in special forces. I still remember him telling me how proud he was to have made the cut. While others in his unit were immediately sent off to the Korean War, my dad began his journey as one of the chosen elite. He continued onward for special training in the Honor Platoon.
A Sudden Fatigue
The rigorous training for those in special forces was grueling. My father remembers being exhausted, along with everyone else, but didn’t think it was anything to be concerned about. He remembers fighting through his fatigue, day after day, of strenuous physical exercise, marching, honor guard rifle-throwing routines, carrying heavy loads of gear during war tactic drills, attending marksmanship practice, early morning risings and everything else Marine training entailed. He began losing weight in a hurry, but didn’t think much of it due to his hectic daily military schedule.
He remembers one particularly difficult day that he wasn’t at his best. Nevertheless, he forced himself to attend rifle practice that morning. It was then that he remembered he couldn’t lift his arm. It was so heavy and sluggish that it wouldn’t work properly hold up his rifle.
He went to his sergeant and reported he wasn’t feeling well.
“Are you trying to get out of duty, soldier?” the sergeant snapped with annoyance.
“No, sir!” my dad replied. “I just don’t feel well.”
There seemed to be a reluctance to relieve him of his training commitments but he was finally dismissed to go to the base infirmary.
That is the last thing my father remembers, walking on the wide roadway between the barracks, before everything went black. He was later told he had suddenly collapsed, falling unconscious. This immediately sent the medics to his side.
Coming out of a coma
When my dad awoke, he was in the military hospital. His father was by his side, having come from Illinois to California after being told his son was in a coma and may not live. The cause? Diabetes.
My dad’s mother was a juvenile diabetic, having just been diagnosed at the time when insulin had been developed. My father, here at age 19, had inherited this same disease right at the point of his promising career as a soldier.
The military doctors and nurses seemed not too updated about diabetes. My dad was tersely given instructions on how to sterilize his syringes, shown once or twice how to inject himself with insulin (how much was not an art form at that time — “just figure it out” was what he was instructed to do) and then he was discharged from the military. Mostly, he had to learn on his own about this disease by reading as much as he could on the subject.
His careful research into diabetes, and experimentation on food intake plus insulin injections, paid off. Through trial and error, he was able to return to a somewhat normal lifestyle. On the GI Bill, he attended Western Illinois University, majoring in history, and even played on the university football team for a year. After marrying my mom in 1956, he was well on his way to completing his degree after my brother was born.
But once again, health issues arose when he was diagnosed with TB. This was most likely contracted while he was in the Marines, during his short time on a submarine, we think. The infection had remained undetected for several years, with my dad unaware that what he considered normal aches, pains and coughs he were anything but normal.
Treatments for TB at that time were horrific and often times experimental. My dad remained isolated in a hospital sanatorium for a total period of 3 years with other TB patients, many of whom didn’t survive. He experienced several near-death experiences but managed to pull through out of a shear will to live for his young son and wife.
He eventually was able to finish his university studies and went on to a career as a high school teacher. His retirement years were full of golf and driving around in his vintage car, a 1960’s Oldsmobile
Honoring my Dad
This past Memorial Day had my mom and me visiting our local cemetery to honor my dad, who died in February, 2014. So many flags had been placed near the tombstones of veterans. This included my dad, of course. We added our metal star and thought of him on this special day, Memorial Day 2020. We miss you! You were the absolute best Dad and a committed Marine. You will always be remembered.
Connie, your story of your dad I found most interesting…..from a nursing perspective. As a student nurse, we learned about diabetes, but even in the mid-60’s it still seemed an incomplete and confusing science to me. 3 years in a sanatorium….my goodness…..I remember watching The Waltons’ when the mom was diagnosed with TB and her going to the SW for care there. As nurses we were tested annually for TB, but it was not until I was in 50’s that I came in contact with a patient having an active case. I see now where your swimming comes from and your teaching passion.