Monday, January 20, 2014

Wilmer A. Wagner, R.I.P.

This past Thursday evening an uncommon man passed from this world.

He was born in Mid-June 1919, four score and fourteen years ago.  The world’s eyes were on Versailles, France where the world’s leaders were gathered to craft and sign a treaty bringing an end to The Great War, also known as the War to End All Wars. The decisions these idealistic and supposedly wise leaders made resulted in harsh terms that led directly to a conflict even more global and destructive, known as the Second World War.

Wilmer A. "Bud" Wagner, like many Minnesota boys born that year, would enlist or be drafted to serve in this subsequent war.

It's interesting that the first airplane flight across the Atlantic Ocean took place that June 1919 as well. Years later, Bud would be aboard the first convoy to cross the Atlantic, heading for the war's European Theater. He kept a diary throughout the war, which would later form the basis of a book published with editorial assistance from his son in the year 2000 titled And There Shall Be Wars.

To pass the time he did a lot of reading and occasionally wrote poetry. This is the beginning of a much longer poem he wrote aboard that convoy.

Tonight I'm going to try my ability at rhyme,
Because right now I have a lot of time.
We've been floating all day,
But where we are going no one will say.

In June 1919 Carl Sandburg was awarded the Pullitzer Prize for his volume of poems titled Corn Huskers. Though Wagner never received the national acclaim a Pullitzer brings, the book he wrote did gain the attention of important people who acknowledged his memoir And There Shall Be Wars as being a significant contribution to the study of military history.

Retired General John W. Vessey, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote, "Dear Bud, ... Thanks not only for the copy of the book, but also for putting those wartime notes into a permanent record. It is an important addition to all the "stuff" historians record. I couldn't put the book down once I got into it. It brought back a lot of memories reading about times, places, and people from 55+ years ago." General Vessey appears several times in the book, receiving his first promotion, to Captain, in Bud's jeep.

Toward the end of his life he had the privilege of participating in Honor Flight, a program designed to fly veterans to Washington D.C. to see the World War Two Memorial there. He had to be at the airport by 5:30 a.m. so I went to pick my father-in-law up at 5:00. He had been sitting in his car since midnight. As in the war, at all hours he was ready for the call.

His obituary in this weekend's Duluth News Tribune paints a picture of his life, a man worthy of honor.

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