Feature Image: The Bravest Guy book cover; other photographs courtesy of Nancy and Bill Feld; and courtesy of Harry Wedewer.
On the heels of Veterans Day, I’d like to share an interview I did with author and retired U.S. Navy Commander Harry Wedewer. The Maryland-based writer wrote a book about his father Don Wedewer, a World War II (WWII) combat veteran.
The Bravest Guy tells the courageous story of Harry Wedewer’s father, who at the young age of 19 served as an infantryman during the war. In just four days, Don Wedewer was greatly wounded two separate times– once, while attempting to aid an injured soldier and second, while recovering from his injuries in the hospital.
The young private stepped on a landmine while attempting to aid a fellow injured soldier. The unfortunate accident severed both of his legs and left him with vision in only one eye. Four days later, while recovering in the hospital, the young Wedewer was injured again when a Nazi V-1 “Buzz Bomb” hit the hospital.
“On both occasions, Catholic priests conferred final blessings on my father,” Harry Wedewer writes. “He had been given up for dead.”
“With incredible persistence and determination, my father overcame the fact that at 19, he was legless and blind, to become a leader in Florida, as well as nationally, in providing opportunities for those with vision loss.”
Harry Wedewer’s father spent two years in Army hospitals recovering from his injuries. It was at one of these hospitals he met Harry’s mother Marabeth.
“She became his indispensable support system as he gained degrees at the University of Missouri and subsequently had to overcome the institutional barriers that in post-World War II America deprived opportunities to those with vision loss.”
Later in his life, Don Wedewer would go on to become a state and national leader for those with vision loss. He also was recognized by Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton.
The American Foundation for the Blind awarded Mr. Wedewer the Migel Medal– the highest honor in the blindness field.
During our interview, Harry Wedewer shared with me how his father’s time in the Army encouraged him to join the Navy, the important life lesson his father taught him, and why he feels it is important for us to celebrate Veterans Day.
It was an honor to speak with retired Commander Harry Wedewer and learn more about his father’s life story. Don Wedewer’s story is encouraging and inspiring. I hope you will consider getting a copy of The Bravest Guy. I have been reading Harry Wedewer’s book since this past weekend and I am really enjoying it so far. It’s such a great read. I think you will really like this book.
Did your father’s time in service encourage you to join the Navy?
It did. I think I was inspired by his commitment to public service, both obviously in the Army but also in his subsequent career where he served in Florida as the leader of the state agency for the blind and visually impaired. So that kind of deep commitment that he’s always had, I think, inspired me to want to give something back, as well.
How did he feel about you joining the Navy?
I think he was okay with it because as a young person he had sort of this sense of adventure in putting himself in some harms way. But I don’t think he had much of an issue with it. I think my mom was a little bit concerned (laughs) because I did some flying, as well. She wasn’t all that happy about it but was ultimately supportive.
With your father being a highly decorated combat veteran, how did it have an impact on your life?
His example, I think, of overcoming his wounds– you know, he is a double amputee and blind from his combat wounds– and learning the story about him overcoming that. He spent about two years in Army hospitals and was incredibly persistent to learn how to walk, and in those days, the prosthetic technology was nothing like it is today. So that determination that he showed and sense of service has always been an inspiration.
What important life lesson did he teach you?
I think it was two things. First, was always maintain a sense of optimism. My dad is one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever known. And don’t let anything get you too far down. You can always get back up off the ground and press ahead. He had every reason to kind of give up when he came home so badly wounded, but he didn’t and it partially was due through just his optimism.
The related and second thing he always taught me was his sense of persistence. Along with his optimism, I’d say he’s the most persistent person I’ve ever known. And that is just to be persistent, persistent, persistent. It took me five different attempts to get in the Navy, for example, and it was his example that led me to keep coming back and ultimately achieve my dream.
How would you define bravery?
I think in two ways. I think it’s the physical courage that it takes you into, whether it’s a war zone or any other place. Where you’re able to sort of resist and overcome fear. Not the absence of fear, but to recognize your fear and to nonetheless overcome it.
And I think the second related way I would define it is sort of psychologically in my dad’s example of recovering from his wounds I mentioned two years in the Army hospitals. He faced up to those wounds, and became, as I noted, a real leader. And it could have been much easier for him just to kind of give up, particularly back in the day when the blind and the handicapped didn’t have any of the opportunities they have now. It took a lot of gumption on his part just to overcome a lot of institutional discrimination that existed when he entered society and entered the workforce, and I think all of that required bravery.
I was reading your website for your book, and at the end [of the book description], you had said, “My goal in life is simple: to inspire at least one person to also become the bravest guy.” Why was writing this book so important to you?
Two reasons. First was, I wanted to reach our veterans from the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with those of previous wars– Vietnam and Korea. I would listen particularly to the most recent veterans on the radio who suffered amputations sort of the signature injury of Afghanistan and Iraq. And I thought, ‘You know, if I can reach one of those veterans with my dad’s story and that inspires them to do something in great in life my goal has been achieved.’ So it was really after sort of listening and hearing their stories that I thought, ‘This story needs to get out there.’
The second reason was to learn more about my dad because when I grew up I sort of knew he had done something brave, but I really didn’t have an appreciation of it because he just never talked about the war, which was very common, I think, of WWII vets. So it was really a chance just to get to know him better and hopefully, pass his legacy on to my own son and family.
Why do you think it’s important to celebrate Veterans Day, and how should we honor our vets?
I think it’s important to celebrate Veterans Day because it’s an opportunity to honor our vets by learning their stories and really learning the human element of their stories including that of their families. I’m a big believer in what’s called bottoms up history where you just learn the everyday soldier, sailor, airmen, marine what they did for the country, and I think there are just some fascinating stories out there.
You know, I put my dad’s out there but I know there’s a lot of others. And I think in learning more about their stories, we will find themes that will bring us together as a country: character, hope, persistence, camaraderie. And I think there’s a lot of themes embedded in there that would help bring us together as a country.
Do you have any final thoughts you wanted to share?
I hope that everyone who encounters this book hopefully is inspired by it. I’d love to get your feedback from anyone who reads. I would love to hear from readers about their stories and their thoughts.
“The Bravest Guy” Don Wedewer discusses his Army induction during World War II | Video by Harry Wedewer
About Harry Wedewer
Harry Wedewer is a retired U.S. Navy Commander. On active duty, he served as a Naval Flight Officer and Aerospace Engineering Duty Officer. He currently is a practicing attorney in public service. Harry is a 1983 graduate of The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina and received his J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C. in 2004. He is a prior contributor to the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Harry resides in Southern Maryland with his wife Robin. — www.thebravestguy.com
Special thanks to Harry Wedewer for taking the time to talk with Good Life Detroit and share his father’s story!
If you would like to purchase Harry Wedewer’s book The Bravest Guy, you can get a copy of it here.
For more information about the author, visit his official website here.