Pearl Harbor survivor, 93, living, laughing in Shiner
By BY SONNY LONG - SLONG@VICAD.COM
Dec. 6, 2009 at 6:06 a.m.
Updated Dec. 7, 2009 at 6:07 a.m.
SHINER - Pearl Harbor survivor Ray Wiese laughs a lot these days.
"My doctor keeps telling me a good laugh is good for longevity. A good laugh is the best," Wiese said from his usual station in a booth at Howard's convenience store.
Sixty-eight years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Wiese has reason to laugh.
Not only did he walk away from the Dec. 7, 1941, attack, Wiese survived seven airplane crashes in the Navy, including three that had fatalities.
A flight surgeon told him that he wouldn't be able to walk by the time he was 50.
"But I'm still hobbling around," said the 93-year-old who uses a walker, but still drives a car and visits Howard's twice a day and has practically since it opened 25 years ago.
Store owner Howard Gloor welcomes Wiese's regular visits.
"If he didn't come here everyday, we'd probably have to close down. He's our No. 1 customer," Gloor said. "If he doesn't show up, we send someone looking for him. He always has interesting stories and I don't think I have ever heard the same one twice."
Wiese's stories include putting sharpened pencils in holes where rivets would pop out sometimes when the seaplanes landed "too hot."
Those stories include escapades at a certain house in Pearl Harbor where the madame gave him two rain checks for free visits that he never got to use because martial law was declared.
THAT SUNDAY IN HAWAII
Wiese's stories also include ones from that Sunday morning in Hawaii almost seven decades ago.
Wiese, who had joined the Navy with some buddies less than a year earlier at 24, was stationed on the naval air station on Ford Island, which sits in the middle of the harbor.
A Third Class aviation radio operator in a patrol squadron of two-engine seaplanes, Wiese was on hangar duty on the island because his crew's airplane was under repair.
"I was on watch in Hangar 6 at the time of the blitz," Wiese said. "I was on a bicycle and had just completed my rounds checking all the planes, checking that everything was secure."
Wiese pedaled up to a podium and wrote in the log book, "0800, all secure."
"About that time I heard a plane diving and all at once a boom," Wiese said, adding emphasis to the word "boom" with gestures suggesting an explosion.
"I looked over and a corner of the hangar is burning I thought a plane had crashed into it. I started racing to the phones thinking which phone should I use, the fire phone or the crash phone, but I didn't get to either one," said Wiese.
"The next bomb hit the hangar and blew me out bicycle and all. I was lucky I was where the doors were open."
Wiese was not seriously injured, catching some shrapnel in the ribs and suffering a busted nose and lip.
Running to avoid more flying shrapnel, Wiese found himself with several others looking to avoid the attack.
"Then more planes came over and the rear gunners were strafing us. We made pretty good targets in our white uniforms on the green grass with the sun just coming up. So we had to get out of there."
Hangar 6 was on fire, so Wiese and the others ran to another hangar. They would go out from time to time and try to save burning airplanes.
"Their planes would come back over and strafe us again, and we'd have to run inside," Wiese said.
His section leader was the only casualty on Ford Island, Wiese said.
Wiese never saw a doctor. Medical personnel were busy with the more severely wounded from the ships, but later went to sick bay for his wounds that earned him a Purple Heart.
AFTER PEARL HARBOR
But Wiese no longer has the medal.
After leaving Pearl Harbor, his unit ended up in western Australia, where Wiese met a woman who ended up with his Purple Heart.
"You know why," he said, laughing at the question of why he gave away his medal.
Some of Wiese's best stories he shares with his comrades at Howard's come from his stint in Australia.
"That was the hardest battle of World War II," he said with a wide grin. "There were six women for every man. Rough duty. Half the outfit got married."
"I had said I was never going to get married, and I escaped for a while," he said. "Until I got to Texas. Six months later, I was married."
FOR LOVE OF SHINER
The trek to Texas was to Rodd Field in Corpus Christi in 1945.
Stationed in Texas less than a month, Wiese met his future wife, Geneva Seim, a Shiner native, at a dance on the base.
"I danced with her once, and I danced with her twice and made a date," Wiese said.
Geneva died in 2004, at 87, five months shy of the couple's 59th anniversary.
Wiese, who grew up on small farm in Iowa near the township where Andy Williams was born, moved to Shiner with Geneva in 1960.
The couple has three children, a daughter and two sons ranging in age from 63 to 54. Wiese's youngest son is his neighbor in Shiner.
"The first time I came to Shiner, my father-in-law took me down to the brewery and introduced me to all the guys," Wiese said.
"So I had two loves in Shiner, my wife and the brewery," he said.
That love of Shiner beer is evident as Wiese, decked out in a VFW cap and American Legion windbreaker, gets a new cup of ice from Gloor for his locally made beverage.
"I still call it Texas Special," he said. "It's Blonde now."
Upon his arrival in Lavaca County 49 years ago, Wiese operated a washateria in Yoakum for three years.
He then worked in a convenience store in Shiner for three years before eventually opening his own filling station at "mini-store" in the current Friday's Fried Chicken location on 5th Street. In addition to fuel, Wiese sold picnic supplies and live bait. He owned and operated the business for 14 years.
These days, in addition to the stops at Howard's, Wiese "makes the tour," driving through the brewery, cemetery and park.
His car is adorned with a Pearl Harbor survivor speciality license plates with "FordIs" on them for the island where he was stationed.
Wiese, who stayed in the reserves for 10 years after leaving active duty to give him 30 years of service, plans to attend a Pearl Harbor survivors gathering in Fredericksburg.
"I want to go at least one more time," he said, noting that he once made trips back to Pearl Harbor for survivor gatherings every five years. "There aren't many of us left."