Sunday, May 31, 2009

Richard Wheeler Memorial, May 30th, 2009

A painting of Wheeler done by sister Margery Wheeler Mattox

Wheeler at Gettysburg Memorial

Wheeler with fellow 3rd Platooner Leonard Mooney who was in attendence Saturday at age 96.

Veterans Day 2006 with President George and First Lady Laura Bush

Front row from left to right: Chick Robeson and Wheeler. Back row from left to right: Chuck Lindberg and Ira Hayes

This past Saturday, May 30th in Pine Grove, PA, a memorial tribute was held for author Richard Wheeler at the Pine Grove Theater. Wheeler who passed away on October 22, 2008 was cremated by request with no formal service. The event was presented by Wheeler's sister, Margery Wheeler Mattox and the Pine Grove Historical Society.

Presentations were given by Steven Krott and Steven Wagner. Guest speakers included Dr. Joe Yarworth of Albright College, Sargeant Major Herman Clemens (Ret.) Army National Guard and Steven Krott. Remarks were given by Joel Whitehouse and Dennis Chamberlain of the Pine Grove Historical Society. The introduction was given by Margery Wheeler Mattox.

I had a chance to meet Wheeler some six years ago while convalescing from an illness. I thought I would try to research if there were any men still alive that served with my grandfather in Guam in August of 1944. My grandfather was wounded in August of 1944 receiving the Purple Heart. Since my grandfather died in 1976, I knew this would be a huge mountain to climb. Wheeler was able to provide information on few army units to serve in the Pacific during World War II. Naturally, I spoke to Wheeler about his three days on Iwo and wrote about it here. I was able to locate families of men that served in my grandfather's unit but they rotated through either before or after my grandfather.

A reception was held after the tribute at the Wheeler's home, Nutting Hall. Among those in attendance was 96 year-old Leonard Mooney who served as Colonel Dave Severance's (Ret.) communication man. Mooney was accompanied by his nephew who was also a Marine that served in Iraq. I made the comment to the nephew that I hope I can get around that well if I make it to 96. His nephew said, "When my unit was deployed to Iraq, he firmly shook all 200 members of the group."

Throughout the day, people remembered Wheeler for his shyness, but also his sense of humor. Wheeler was limited by his war injuries and had to use a cane and suffered from vertigo. Recently, he was hospitalized for a shrapnel infection some 60 years after the battle. In international circles he was known as being a military author and historian, but also wrote a collection of over 800 poems typically in humorous rhyme.

This poem was given to my by Wheeler a few weeks before his death:


My years are nearing 87.
I'm mighty close to Hell or Heaven.

Though Heaven's touted as very nice,
I plan to spurn this Paradise.

Whenever I ponder its effort-free quiet,
I'm moved to dismal boredom by it.

Iver lived as and active kind of guy
Who rated creative endeavors high.

Perhaps I can wangle a deal with Satan
To spend Eternity busy matin'.

Here is my favorite Wheeler quote taken from Bloody Battle:

"As for Death, I had come face to face with that old ogre
and noticed he was mostly a sham.
I'd enjoy the truce he granted me,
but would live with the feeling that when he renewed his fight in earnest,
I'd be able to make my surrender without begging for terms."

Once again, another member of the "Greatest Generation" has passed. A man who I called on as an author and historian, in the end I would call friend.

Semper Fi.

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