Who lit my fire?
June 4, 2013
By U.S. Army Chaplain (Maj.) William Wehlage
DOHA, Qatar - My father Louis P. Wehlage is my greatest hero. Raised in the depression era, he came from a small Kansas farm town and grew up relatively poor.
After the attack on the U.S. bases in Pearl Harbor, he was the first U.S. Army enlistee in his hometown of Parsons, Kan. He trained diligently to fight America's enemies and departed for a five-year deployment, long before the days of email, or abilities to call home.
When he returned from war, Dad would meet and marry my mother, Mildred, the only woman he ever loved. To prove this love, they remained married until the day she died, just after their 50th anniversary. Along the way, they had a couple of kids: a cute little girl and an ornery redheaded boy.
Above all, my father was a man of faith. He would kneel often with our family and pray. He led us to church and taught us what was most important using The Lord as his authority, his life as an example and love as his guide.
Although my father loved and served his country, he always seemed to know how to prioritize our family. I guess I never fully understood this until a just few summers ago. While snooping through an old closet at my parent's home, I came across a canvas-lined suit carrier containing my father's fully assembled-yet quite dusty- Class A uniform. Immediately impressed, I began to survey the myriad of awards and decorations representing his 30-plus years of service in our Army: ten knots on his good conduct medal, ten hash marks on his left sleeve, eleven on his right sleeve and the Korean service ribbon with five battle stars.
Perched above his three rows of ribbons was his retirement award - the Meritorious Service Medal. Today, it may be no big deal, but in 1977, this award was quite unusual for an enlisted soldier.
As I began to put it all together and reflect on my own responsibilities as a father, I came to a sobering realization which caused me to re-examine my own priorities. You see, all the symbols of my father's military accomplishments, while valued by his country, had hung unnoticed in a dusty closet for the 30 years since his retirement- but he still had his family.
I think the thing that made dad my hero more than anything is that he was not my friend or pal but that he was my father. He made me want to follow his God because I witnessed the reality of his faith daily. He affirmed what was right, rebuked what was wrong and always knew the difference and could explain it in terms a young man like me could apply. I still call him for advice and will until the day he dies.
This Father's Day my prayer is that when I am his age my children will remember me in such favorable light. I pray I lead them toward my Lord and his book - just like my hero!