"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Earl Wevley: pillar from a distinct U.S. epoch

Earl Wevley had seven brothers. Oh, and he also had seven sisters! It was a "Spencer's Mountain" type of family - you remember, with Henry Fonda?
Earl had a son who was in my grade at Morris High School: Willard. Willard had great athletic genes. Earl was such a strapping young man in World War Two, you can easily see how those physical traits were bequeathed.
A picture of Earl in WWII is in the book about WWII that was published by our Historical Society. It's called "The '40s, a Time for War and a Time for Peace." I consider the book more precious now than when it came out. That's because the WWII generation exists more in our memories now than in real life. Time marches on, alas. It's terrific to have those precious personalities preserved in the book. It's at our public library. A warning: the book was bound in a way that the pages fall out easily. My personal copy has become rather a mess. I keep it all together in a cherished place. I quoted from it not long ago when Francis "Fritz" Schmidt left us.
I had two contacts with Earl through my work with the Morris newspaper. I visited the family farm as a way of introducing a new FFA teacher at Morris High School. As I remember, I used the farm backdrop as a way of profiling the new teacher. I believe this was the teacher who had a background in the Peace Corps. I remember learning that Peace Corps alums were the kind of people who weren't necessarily in a hurry to get things done. It seemed like a character trait that had to be overcome. The pace of life was very slow and plodding in Peace Corps locations.
I got familiar with Earl's twin sons when making that farm visit. But Willard was the son with whom I was most familiar, having attended the Morris school grades K-12 with him. He and Dan Long were the athletic prodigies from our class.
Earl was four years old when his family moved to Breckenridge. Theirs was a farm life. His dad had the classic struggle of striving to make a living in the Depression. "We were poor as heck, you know," Earl was quoted saying in the book. "When kids got to be 13 or 14 years old, we were all on our own. Dad had a big family and couldn't support them."
That culture of the big families has faded away. Today we have "helicopter parents" who dote on their few children. The college dormitories built in the mid-20th Century are being torn down because they are seen as too impersonal. Impersonal? Remember the movie where Robert Mitchum hails one of his rescuers with "Hey Marine, got a cigarette?" No interest in the guy's name. Not real personal. Such was the lot of our WWII soldiers.
Young men like Earl flooded the ranks of our military when our country called. We faced the Empire of Japan and the Nazis. Today we face an enemy that doesn't wear uniforms. Things were much more orderly in the 1940s - the Japanese left a return address.
The young Earl worked for a farmer south of Alberta, Ed Holslin. The bombs fell on Pearl Harbor. Destiny was going to take Earl for a ride along with his whole generation. Earl was drafted. He was inducted into the military at Fort Snelling. He was trained in infantry and artillery in Oklahoma. Finally he came home on leave. Then came the overseas papers, sending him into the thick of it. His destination was the Southwest Pacific. His attempts to correspond with home were impeded by censors.
The environment was so different. He recalled a malady called "jungle rot." "It was so hot and damp, you know, and your feet never did dry out," he said in the book. "Some say once you get the disease, you never get over it - it's something in your blood, I guess."
It didn't help that the soldiers wore wool socks and combat boots. As far as the natives, they eschewed footwear therefore they seemed to avoid the problem. Soldiers had to fear malaria.
Earl was a guinea pig with others for a new kind of food, called a "D-bar." This was just before the troops would have invaded the Japanese mainland. Earl described the D-bar as "like a highly fortified candy bar. It was supposed to sustain you for a week." Maybe it would, but it was no waltz in the park. Earl said "You take a nibble off that and drink water, and your stomach swells up like a balloon. You feel like you're full but there's no bulk, just a lot of yeast." Earl did not react well. The idea was to be able to function with minimal or no food available once the troops penetrated Japan. "I got sicker than hell," Earl said for the book.
I have long heard about the free cigarettes given GIs. Earl confirmed that such a thing was done. It seemed everyone smoked. The movie "Pearl Harbor" was sanitized according to the political correctness standards of today: no smoking. It was a charade. Historical accuracy is always to be commended.
Were we really willing and ready to invade the Japanese mainland? I guess we were. The soldiers probably would have gone in en masse, and been mowed down in significant numbers. The development of the atomic bomb made the thrust unnecessary. An invasion of Japan might have made it impossible for Willard to be brought into the world. Earl might have become a "statistic." Fortunately the U.S. found the means to subdue the Empire of Japan. Earl, his wife Leola and their children ended up blessing our existence in Morris MN.
Leola was the former Leola Kussatz. I got to know Leola when she contacted the paper for coverage of various awards given by a service organization auxiliary, VFW or Legion or both. (It was easy to confuse the two, just like the men's posts could be confused.)
Earl recalled being on leave when he took Leola to a dance in Alberta. He was with Floyd Lange, a friend who also got drawn into the war. The two went their separate directions after the dance, saying to each other "See you when we get back from all of this." Floyd ended up on a ship that was sunk by a Japanese Kamikaze plane in the closing stages of the war. We lost Floyd. Click on the link below to read the post I wrote about Floyd Lange.
BTW he looked so much like the "Kramer boys" who would become family. Del Sarlette said of the Kramer boys: "They looked exactly the same at a certain age."
Earl's distress with war did not end with the end of the war. He was sent to Pearl Harbor. He was in a unit assigned to clean up "dud" bombs from the infamous bombing. Such bombs had timing that was off, Earl speculated. We lacked the tech means of today to do the locating. A fellow soldier just 50 or 100 feet away from Earl, discovered a bomb and it went off. Earl took the dog tags off this suddenly killed man. He carried the body up a hill. "Life wasted," Earl bemoaned. Such are the experiences that can lead to PTSD. Earl's friends and family would say that he could not sever himself from such memories.
Earl was discharged from the service at Fort Sheridan IL. He married Leola. He greatly savored the freedom of his life post-war. The war had been so suffocating in terms of taking orders all the time, he said. I guess freedom was what the war was all about.
Earl has gone to a better place: heaven. Far from "jungle rot," indeed.
In my interview with Earl in connection with Veterans Day, I remember him talking about how "we wouldn't want to live under a dictator." He truly knew what was at stake. Such a dynamic, selfless generation. I look down the table of contents of that WWII book, and see so many names that make me smile, men and women. Women were subservient in many ways at that time in our U.S. history. But undoubtedly, the men who served saw women fully as peers, I'm convinced. Societal norms weren't their idea or creation. The men and women joined hands in our great effort to dispatch the Axis powers.
I wish Earl's generation could have done more to suppress our involvement in both Korea and (especially) Viet Nam.
What if the U.S. had not been forced to build up its military for World War II? How might that have changed the course of history? What of all the men who would have been denied the benefits of the G.I. Bill? I'm quite certain the great "middle class" of the late 20th Century would never have come about. Could our national morale have held up? "Alternate histories" are a serious field of study and fodder for books. But this is just a blog.
Earl Wevley, RIP. Floyd Lange, RIP.
Addendum: Re. the movie "Spencer's Mountain," you might recall that it included a scene that is perhaps the saddest in movie history: where the tree falls on the old man, remember?
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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