Monday, November 11, 2019

"Like Getting My Father Back:" WWII POW's Art Returned To His Family

Howard Weistling was thinking about becoming a comic book artist when he was a young man. Then, Pearl Harbor was bombed and he enlisted in the army.

NPR has the story written by Laurel Morales:

"Mike Weistling, Howard's grandson, loved to hear his grandfather's war stories.
"'He probably told me a lot of stories that were not appropriate for a child to hear,' Mike Weistling says.

"After flight engineer training, Howard was shipped off to Europe. On his maiden flight, his plane was shot down over Austria. Mike has the actual rip cord hung on his wall in Flagstaff, Ariz.

"The entire crew of eight men landed safely. But a farmer found Howard hiding in his barn and turned him over to a prisoner of war camp in Barth, Germany. Howard's son Morgan Weistling says it was freezing and the men almost starved to death eating the guards' garbage.

"'German soldiers would open the door and after they had their food would throw their plates on the floor,' says Morgan Weistling.

"Hungry and homesick Howard coped the only way he knew how. He drew a comic strip. The book, made of cigarette wrappers bound together with scrap metal, was sent around camp.

"'Every couple of days he would add a new panel,' says Morgan. 'One panel at a time would be passed around the whole camp. And they'd have something to look forward to.'

"After an entire year of this, they woke one morning to find their guards gone. They fled before the Russians arrived to liberate the camp. Howard finally got to go home. Just lucky to get out alive, he left the book behind."

Howard came home, married and raised a family. He left the idea of being a cartoonist behind. He became a gardener.

He did get to see his son, Morgan, become a successful illustrator and painter. 

"'And he just got tears in his eyes 'like you're doing what I always had hoped I would do,'' says Morgan. 'And he was literally — I could just feel it — living through the moment like that's his way of living that dream out.'"

Howard Weistling passed away in 2002.

Just this year, Morgan got an email. Someone had bought a bunch of Nazi relics, including three of Hitler's watercolors, as well as a small comic book, bound in scrap metal with the name "Weistling" on it.

"'I get an email from an older gentleman and he says, 'I think I may have some drawings that your father did when he was a POW in World War II,'' Morgan recalls. ''Would you like them?' And I just stared at that email and started crying.'"

"'I want to know all the hands it's passed through,' Morgan says. 'What happened right when the Russians came in? And how did it end up with Hitler's watercolors? It just doesn't make any sense. It's like I wish there was a Go-Pro attached to it so we could've seen the journey these drawings have gone through.'

"A couple of days later when it arrived by FedEx in California, he couldn't believe it.

"'It was like getting my father back,' Morgan Weistling says. 'It was like him being able to tell me the story over again only this time it was real in my hands.'"

The whole story is at the NPR site. 

Thanks to my pal Adrian Sinnott for telling me about this story.


PennyL said...

Awesome story, thanks for sharing it!

Pam Williams said...

Wow! What a great story! I can't imagine the feelings he had getting that book, amazing that it made it to him.