Two decades ago, World War II Army veteran Don Weimer began writing poems about the war. Such verse, the bard says, helped him put his military service in perspective and better understand the trials of his fellow soldiers.
One of his poems about a vet who received a "Dear John" letter, Weimer said, represents what sometimes happened when soldiers went off to war: The girlfriend or wife they loved back home ditched them. However, in this poem, "Ken Goes to War," Weimer provides an ending of practicality and hope.
But first one needs to know a little about Weimer and what he experienced to provide the foundation for his later-in-life poetry.
He arrived in Italy in February 1945 and was assigned to the 313th Combat Engineers. The first thing he says he noticed was how the war had ripped apart a country that was supposed to be known as sunny and romantic.
"The artillery and the bombs had destroyed practically all the bridges and anything in the path of our infantry, as it had moved north through all the little towns and villages where the Germans had dug in and made defensive fortifications," Weimer said.
His duties included security patrols for the 15th Army Air Force in Foggia, in the southern part of the Italian peninsula.
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Don Weimer, 91
Rank: Private 1st class
War zone: World War II, European Theater
Years of service: January 1944 – December 1946
Most prominent honors: European Theater Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Army of Occupation Medal
Specialty: Combat engineer
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"We were establishing a POW camp and I got to speak with a number of Germans. A lot of them spoke English and I heard their perspective on the war. They all said we should be fighting the Russians and that they would join us. They said Communism was the real enemy," Weimer recalled.
To be in the midst of history was not lost on the young man. A little more than a year earlier, Weimer had been at the old Williamsville High School learning about the world from textbooks. Now he was experiencing real-time history lessons. And while he witnessed the anguish of other GIs who learned in letters that their gal back home had broken off the relationship, Weimer unexpectedly found love in Italy.
It happened during a chance meeting toward the end of the war. He met a young woman by the name of Nicolina Napolitano, who was from the Naples area.
"I was on patrol driving a Jeep and it was raining cats and dogs. So I pulled into a large garage where there were about a dozen women gathered. They were in that area getting olive oil and they ended up in the garage when it started raining."
Before long, Weimer said he spotted "this raven-haired beauty." The rest is history. They married here on July 26, 1947, and raised three children. Weimer's management position at Bell Aerospace Textron provided them with a comfortable living.
Twenty years ago, he discovered satisfaction in penning poems, though he always had a flare for writing, having served in Italy for a time as the editor-in-chief of the battalion newspaper.
Sadly, four years ago, his marriage of 67 years ended when Nicolina passed away.
But what about Ken, the fictional GI whose experiences represent what sometimes really happened to those overseas in the trenches? Read on:
"It was nineteen-forty-two and the news quite blue,
For Japan had just declared war.
The bombs that fell created a hell that promised there'd only be more.
For all the the young men and a guy named Ken,
The war would become a way of life.
He packed his grip for the dreaded trip,
And bid farewell to his wife.
He was sent to camp, it was hot and damp,
The mosquitoes were larger than flies.
The captain was mean if things weren't clean,
And the cook made the awfullest pies.
Each morning at five the barracks came alive,
As reveille played over the speaker.
It was shower and shave like some poor knave
Whose life couldn't be any bleaker.
To the mess hall Ken marched, his throat was parched,
From the heat of the night before.
A breakfast of grits and prunes to fill the pits,
With powdered eggs and spam by the score.
It was drill, drill, drill and men became ill,
the day seemed it would never end.
By the time Ken was done there was no time for fun,
Even a letter Ken could not send.
As the weeks went by, Ken felt he would die
From the food, the marching and drills.
But a furlough at home was one small bone,
That helped to make up for his ills.
He returned to his base which is usually the case,
For soon he'd be off to the war.
His orders came through and before long he knew,
The horrors that would be in store.
He was assigned a division by a Colonel's decision,
To a company of Combat Engineers.
Building bridges under fire, laying concertina wire,
soon filled him with doubts and fears.
All seemed to go well though it seemed like hell,
With shells that kept bursting quite near.
One day a shell came, it was marked with his name,
And gave proof for his reason to fear.
His sergeant was struck and with a stroke of luck,
Ken was just dazed and covered with grime.
A buddy turned about and soon dug him out,
And it seemed that all would be fine.
Ken remained in a daze, his arm wouldn't raise,
It just limply hung by his side.
He was checked for a wound, none could be found,
It seemed all that got hurt was his pride.
Ken asked about Sarge whose wound was quite large,
And was told he probably would die.
Ken let out a moan along with a groan,
And said it could have been I.
Soon a letter came from his wife named Jane,
That she now was expecting a babe.
He said it's not mine, I've been gone over nine.
It must be from some Four-F knave.
The war soon did end, home they did send Poor Ken to look after his wife.
But the babe was so fine and Ken changed his mind,
And said it's all part of life.
So the story will end with wife Jane and Ken,
Both resolved to be a good father and mother.
Ken regained his pride and felt good inside,
And they had children one after another.