She was only the trash lady! I would see her making her rounds on the rare occasions that we were in town. Her route included the alley between Norris, then called "Main Street" and West First most often between Hesteds 5 & 10 and the bank. I was intrigued because she drove a farm truck with stock rack and lifted the trash barrels up by hand. It seemed like a hard job for the woman named Minnie Weskamp who always seemed to be hurrying. I sensed that my mom looked down on the lady which seemed strange because "looking down" was a judgment that mom usually reserved for the lazy, and even I could see that Minnie definitely didn't qualify. Must have been her language!
Evidently Minnie had a contract to pick up business trash/garbage from the downtown merchants, a practice that continues today. For some reason I've never figured out, the City of McCook gathers the trash from residents and businesses have to contract with separate carriers for the same service. Memory tells me that Minnie was still servicing her route as late as the early '50s as I remember her employing two young guys my age to help her, at least in the summertime.
Years later I'm at UTapao Royal Thai Navy Base flying tankers in support of the Vietnam War.
A husky 1st Lt. Dick Weskamp, navigator on another tanker crew, introduced himself by asking if I was from McCook. Turns out that Dick remembered me from his summer job helping Grandmother Minnie haul trash.
He and his brother Robert grew up in the Denver area and spent summers working for the family enterprise. I accused him of throwing rocks at me as they made their rounds and instantly we were new-found friends.
At the time, Dick's twin brother, Robert, was flying F-105 missions out of Takhli RTAFB Bangkok.
On a two-week rotation when we temporarily flew our tankers out of Takhli I got reacquainted with Robert.
Launching from our bases in Thailand, we tankers would orbit at about 20,000 feet near the Thailand and Laotian borders with North Vietnam. Yes, I know we never were officially in Laos, but nevertheless, we'd arrive first and then meet heavily bomb-laden F-105 and F-4 fighters. After we topped off their fuel tanks, they'd enter North Vietnam and we'd await their return. Those who returned would again hit us to take on enough fuel to make it comfortably back to their home bases. Sadly, all too many times, the number coming back didn't equal the number that had earlier had gone north.
Normally, we tankers would try to follow the action up north by listening on the radio frequencies used by the fighter guys. We could also hear the radar controllers broadcasting warnings of SAMs and MiGs on guard channel.
If the action was hot, and it normally was, the airways would be nonstop talking, shouting and occasionally the eerie "whoop whoop" of survival beacons. We also paid close attention to the MiG calls, because if they headed south they had the capability to reach out and touch our unarmed, completely defenseless tankers. Never happened but we didn't want to be first, either.
Our tankers were equipped with HF (high frequency/long range) radio and after the fighters had cycled through and we were all heading home we would listen to Hanoi Hanna. She would play American music and make "slightly prejudiced" comments about "Yankee Air Pirates."
Her ongoing complaint was that our guys bombed only the innocent, peaceful, citizens of the glorious People's Republic of Vietnam.
One day, actually the 25th of April 1967, Hanoi Hanna caught my attention when she announced "Today a fine specimen of a young man, an air pirate named Robert Weskamp, died in an ambulance on the way to a hospital in Hanoi after bailing out of his crippled bomber!"
Talk about a feeling of loss! Right then, high over the Thai jungle, the war hit home to me, and McCook, Nebraska, in a very personal way!
The loss was confirmed when we landed at Takhli and met the frustrated members of his flight. Probably as a result of ground fire, his airplane had entered a divergent oscillation, they called it the J.C. maneuver, and he ejected from the uncontrollable airplane at way too fast an airspeed to survive the violent forces involved.
Brother Dick was also flying that day, and his crew diverted into Takhli so Dick could grieve with the F-105 guys who had been in Robert's flight. Fortunately, the two brothers had spent several days together just before Robert's ill fated flight.
Robert's remains were returned to the U.S. in 1974. Until that time, he had been carried as Missing in Action and his widow and sons continued to receive his full pay.
With the encouragement of his family, his widow remarried and life went on.
Since then, I have touched Robert's name engraved forever on the Vietnam wall. His memory too lives in my heart, the trash lady's grandson, who died a hero.