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Wrong Henry Welzel?

Henry Welzel



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Background Information

Employment History


U.S. Army


German Army


Hitler Youth organization

Web References (6 Total References)

Hank Welzel was 16 when the ... [cached]

Hank Welzel was 16 when the Wehrmacht drafted him in 1942

On Veterans Day this year, NPR's All Things Considered aired my story about Hank Welzel, a sharp 84-year-old who lives with his wife in Freeport, Maine.
Hank was born in Ohio in 1926, but moved with his family to Germany when he was two years old. He grew up under the Nazi regime and served in the German Army during WWII. After the war, he returned to the United States and then served in the U.S. Army on the front lines of Korea.
Hank's is a unique story about national identity and personal redemption.
You can listen to my NPR piece, or you can continue reading for photos and the extended story.
Hank Welzel was two years old in 1928 when his father's career took the family from Ohio back to Germany, where they had emigrated from before the First World War.
A 16-year-old Hank Welzel in his German Army uniform poses with his sister
It was not until after the war, when he was in France to help rebuild that country's economy as part of the Marshall Plan, that he visited the U.S. Embassy in Paris to tell his story and get his papers in order for a trip back to United States - this time as a citizen.
But first he traveled to East Germany to see his family for the first time since he was drafted into the ranks of the Wehrmacht and sent to Italy. His family had survived the Allied bombing campaigns and the violent retribution Russian soldiers inflicted on the German populace. Hank lived there for less than a year before he escaped to the U.S. Embassy in Berlin, his first stop on his trip back to the United States.
In 1949, he arrived in Connecticut with nothing but his German accent and a suitcase full of dirty laundry. Within a week of his return to the United States, he tried to join the U.S. Marines. "My grandfather had always put it into me: As an American you have to behave as an American. It's not just a big joke. So I put it in my head: When I get back to the states I want to do my duty to my country. I figured, the first thing I wanted to do is my military service, so they couldn't say 'you were in the German army, but how about your own country?'"
Hank didn't want to be labeled a traitor. He wanted to offer atonement to the country of his birth. Unfortunately, the Marines wouldn't take him when he revealed his last place of residence was East Germany. So he settled down in Connecticut, where he had relatives. He got a job in a mill. He met his future wife, Gloria. He bought a car. He tried to create a new life and regain his U.S. identity.
"As far as I was concerned, the German thing was behind me, lost, forgotten, past," Hank says. "My point was always: If it's bad, forget it. And this was bad to me, so I forgot it and tried to forget it, and kept forgetting it."
Hank Welzel (left) served as a medic in the U.S. Army during the Korean War
And then the Korean War began. A year after Hank's failed attempt to join the Marines, the U.S. Army drafted him. He served as a medic in the 179th Infantry Regiment on the front lines of Korea for close to 11 months, earning a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for valor.
He had served his birth country, but he returned scarred from the war. "I was a basket case," Hank says. "I would wake up screaming, dreaming."
But he didn't get help because of the stigma that still existed about what is now known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Hank Welzel, 84, finds talking about his past has helped him come to terms with his war experiences
In the 1990s, Hank began having heart trouble, which doctors were having a hard time diagnosing. Eventually, it became clear it was related to PTSD.
"It's hard to diagnose something that in reality destroyed you like 40, 50 years ago," Hank says. "I mean, the key, the ground stones were laid during the war."
Hank finally returned to the VA in the early 1990s and sought help for the PTSD that had lurked in the back of his mind for the past 40 years. He hasn't fully come to terms with his war experiences yet, but after a life spent keeping his past a secret, he's found the best therapy is to open up and discuss what he's been through.

Henry Welzel made the drive to ... [cached]

Henry Welzel made the drive to Bangor from his Freeport home early on Memorial Day to tell his story to a group that consisted of nearly 500 veterans.

Welzel was born in the United States but moved to Germany when he was only 2. He was forced into the Nazi army when he was 16 and served as a medic during World War II. "You know everything happened to me when I was real young," says Welzel, "I was in the German army when I was under 17 and I was captured before I was 18."
Lucky for him he was captured by the American army. Since he was still an American citizen he was returned to the US on Thanksgiving day 1949. Shortly after that he tried enlisting in the United States Marine Corps and after a short wait he was back on the battlefield. This time fighting with the red, white, and blue. "I volunteered for Korea and within 3 months I was on the frontline three days before christmas in '51 in the 45th division."
Welzel served for 21 months in Korea earning a bronze star and a purple heart. He says there's quite a difference between life in the u-s and german military. "The food is better for one thing. Supplies were better."
Welzel says he's happy to have the chance to tell his story to Veterans on Memorial Day.

BANGOR, Maine - Henry Welzel ... [cached]

BANGOR, Maine - Henry Welzel suffered a stroke in 1998 that affected his short- to medium-term memory, but ask him to recall his military career in the 1940s and 1950s, and the details roll off his tongue.

And oh, the details.
Welzel, now 84 and living in Freeport, will tell his story at the Memorial Day commemoration service held Monday at the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor.
It begins in 1926 in Ohio, where Welzel was born to German immigrant parents who moved the family back to their homeland when he was still a boy.
In Germany in the late 1930s, Welzel joined the Hitler Youth organization even though he wasn't sold on the beliefs of the German dictator.
"As a teenage male, you didn't really have a choice," he said recently in an interview.
Welzel trained for several years to be a soldier for Germany and, at age 17 in 1943, was first deployed.
"I was the only medic assigned to a company of about 300 people," he said.
Welzel didn't stay in Virginia long. He and many other prisoners of war were transferred to Fort Rucker in Alabama. He stayed about one year.
"There were still some serious Nazis there," he said. "I was scum to them."
After the war ended, the U.S. instituted the Marshal Plan to rebuild a Western Europe devastated by combat. Welzel was sent back overseas in 1948, this time to France. He remembers that time fondly. Even though he was still technically a prisoner, he felt free.
Unfortunately, he also was alone.
With family still in Germany, Welzel left his assignment in France without authorization and planned to visit his parents.
He never got there.
At the border of France and Germany were Russian soldiers stopping everyone who wanted to get in. That included Welzel. They searched his bag.
"I had cigarettes, soap and [girlie] magazines," he said. "They took the magazines."
Welzel found himself in captivity again, this time by the Russians.
"They tried to indoctrinate us to become communists and told us how bad Americans were," he said. "But I was an American."
After another six months held captive in East Germany, Welzel tried again to flee and visit his family. This time, he was successful.
His family stayed in Germany, but Welzel knew he wasn't safe there. He safely made his way to an American embassy and was sent back to his birth country. This time, he was no longer a prisoner.
Welzel was back in the United States for less than two years before he was drafted into the Army and sent to Fort Devens in Massachusetts. He was bound for Korea in 1951 and served as a medic at U.S. headquarters in Seoul. This deployment was tame by Welzel's standards. He said the worst thing that happened to him was frostbite.
He returned to the U.S. for good in early 1953.
Welzel had married his wife in 1950 before his tour in Korea. Once Welzel returned to the U.S., he started a family and a new life. He worked in Massachusetts for many years, but always had a camp in Washington, Maine. In 1981, his family moved to Maine full time. He continued to work and eventually retired from Bath Iron Works.
Over the years, his military background faded into the background. The Bronze Star and other accolades he earned were the only reminders. And his memory.
He suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for a time but now is comfortable talking about his service. He often meets with other veterans and participates in historical discussions.
When Galen Cole invited Welzel to speak on Memorial Day, Welzel was honored.

Whit | Whit Richardson | Page 2 [cached]

On Veterans Day this year, NPR's All Things Considered aired my story about Hank Welzel, a sharp 84-year-old who lives with his wife in Freeport, Maine. Hank was born in Ohio in 1926, but moved with his family to Germany ... Continue reading →

welzel | Whit Richardson [cached]

On Veterans Day this year, NPR's All Things Considered aired my story about Hank Welzel, a sharp 84-year-old who lives with his wife in Freeport, Maine. Hank was born in Ohio in 1926, but moved with his family to Germany ... Continue reading →

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