Serving the Loup Valley for 137 Years
60 Years Later: Welniak Recalls Volunteering For Draft, Service
To United States Army
By Lisa Fischer
After graduating from Ord High School (OHS) in 1958, Lawrence Welniak decided to take hold of his future.
Instead of touring a college campus, Welniak visited Ord’s Selective Service Office and volunteered for the U.S. Draft. By January of 1959, he was 18-years-old and a member of the U.S. Army. By February of that same year, he arrived in Fort Leonard Wood, MO for Basic Training (BT). After completetion, he received Advanced Individualized Training as an Engineer at the same base, before being shipped to Germany. While overseas, he resided on a base once utilized by Nazis during WWII and got to see the places he read about during history class at OHS. In fact, the same Stars And Stripes (European Edition) newspaper that chronicled his last weekend overseas remains intact and is shared with others who share his enthusiasm for history.
“I was a part of the 555 (Triple Nickel) Engineer Group when I was in Germany,” Welniak said. “It took us nearly 12 days on the USS Darby to get there.”
He recalls viewing the Statue of Liberty when the USS Darby left New York Harbor in Oct. of 1959. The Atlantic Ocean was calm and seasickness did not affect a majority of the crew. Welniak said he was the second of his four siblings to join the U.S. Army. His older brother, Ted, was a Paratrooper in the U.S. Airborne, who later trained recruits in tank warfare during the Korean War Era.
“There was Alfonse, Floyd, Lorraine, Ted and I was the youngest,” Welniak said. “The trip across the Atlantic was the first time I was away from home on my own.”
After the USS Darby docked at Bremerhaven, Germany he and his company were put on a train to Karlsruhe Army Base and housed in Fillips Barracks, the same that once housed Nazis during WWII.
“The base was surrounded with gates that were nearly eight-foot-tall,” Welniak added. “Nobody got in or out accidentally.”
While in Germany for 15-months, his company performed summer maneuvers to install and disassemble pontoon bridges. These 16-foot bridges utilized inflatable tires, generators, planks and tethered cables. When he was not on duty Welniak, passed the time by playing cards with other soldiers and sightseeing. By 1960, he was a 19-year-old soldier who accrued enough free time to take a 10-day journey across Italy where he saw sights like the Colosseum, Leaning Tower, Sistine Chapel and Trevi Fountain.
“I took this trip long before the internet and all we had in Nebraska were pictures in history books,” Welniak recalled. “Those pictures didn’t do any of those sights justice.”
During his free-time on base, Welniak stayed up-to-date with current events by reading The Ord Quiz and The Stars and Stripes (European Edition) newspapers. He noted that staying up-to-date with what was happening back home and in the world has always been important to him. So the last weekend he was overseas, Jan. 28-29 1961, Welniak was sure to grab the most recent editions of the Stars And Stripes before loading up on the ship that would lead him back to Nebraska.
“My wife Judi and I have taken great pains to ensure they stay readable,” Welniak said.
At 79, Welniak stays as active as possible on the family farm his parents, Anton and Helen, began farming more than a century earlier. Welniak proudly noted his son, Brian, takes on the lion’s share of the farming duties, enabling him and Judi to spend time with their children, Brian and Jennifer, along with their six grandchildren.
“I feel fortunate to have spent a lifetime doing what I love, among my family in an area that has always been and always will be home,” Welniak said.
The Stars and Stripes Newspaper (European Edition)
Avenue of Flags Volunteers Needed
Just a reminder that the Avenue of Flags will be put up in the cemetery Veterans Day morning, Mon., Nov. 11, at 7 a.m. and will be taken down that afternoon at 4 p.m. If the weather is bad, listen for a cancellation announcement on KNLV Radio or the Avenue of Flags Facebook page. Any volunteers are welcome and much appreciated.