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Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014

The trash lady's grandson

Saturday, December 29, 2007

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.


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Thanks for an interesting article. Dick and Robert are my first cousins.

The brothers are not twins, however. Dick was born in Dec 1939 and Robert was a 4th of July baby in 1942.

Chris Christensen

-- Posted by rjchris on Sat, Dec 29, 2007, at 9:01 AM

Great article. My father is Dick Weskamp. It doesn't surprise me that my dad and uncle were helping their grandmother. That is typical of my father: he knows everybody and helps anyone. True story: He helped my family and me move from CA to MO 1 1/2 years ago, while stopping in Sydney, NE to go to Cabellas dad and I went down to McDonalds to eat. He struck up a conversation with the man in front of us, who he ended up knowing from McCook, a long time ago. My dad retired LT Col from the air force in 86. Thanks for the article.

Marcy Heppner

-- Posted by heppner on Sun, Dec 30, 2007, at 4:13 PM

I knew and flew combat with Bob Wescamp in early 1967 out of Takhli RTAFB. He was a great pilot and a good friend. I was flying with the Wild Weasel force on the morning Bob was shot down. The main target was a major electrical power and switching station deep in North Vietnam. It was a particularly harrowing mission with intense AAA and SAMs, and many encounters with MiGs.

My thoughts and prayers have always been with the families of the many good friends that were lost during my 100 mission tour. God bless them all and God Bless America!

Col. Paul Seymour (Alexandria, VA)

-- Posted by ftrjoq on Wed, Jan 2, 2008, at 12:16 PM

I enjoyed the article. My father is Robert Weskamp. I have missed a lot of stuff on my fathers life. I was born on July 22nd 1966. I never really got to know as much of his side of the family as I would have liked. I love hearing about any of his life and knowing where he came from. Your article is a great help in filling in little details about my family.

Thank you

Timothy Bowers (fmr)SSgt USAF

-- Posted by helmutd6 on Fri, Jan 4, 2008, at 10:57 PM

I have a few photographs with

1st Lt Robert Weskamp in them.

Anyone may contact me at

dmcneil@charter.net

Dave McNeil

Hickory, NC

-- Posted by karlsthud on Sat, Jan 5, 2008, at 1:17 PM

Enjoyable article. Robert Weskamp was my father. Contrary to the mention I am a daughter! I was born on my Father's 23rd birthday, the fourth of July. I knew my father worked many jobs to attend Regis College and qualify for a commission. I was honored to walk commencement exercises for my BS in Mathematics at Regis College 40 years after he received his diploma. I was honored by the attendance of my Uncle Dick and brother Tim for this family event.

Cecily (Weskamp) Wilson

-- Posted by awcecily on Tue, Jan 8, 2008, at 7:15 PM


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The Way I Saw It