By Michael Roof
While standing in the draft line the recruiter ordered everyone to count off one through four. Jim Wegener happened to be a four. The recruiter then said all fours step forward; you are now a U.S. Marine! A guy overheard Jim say he didn’t want to be a marine, so the guy told Jim to step back and the other guy stepped forward. This is the day Jim became an Army soldier.
In 1968, Jim flew back home from Vietnam wearing his uniform. Although he was proud to have served in Vietnam while walking through the airports he felt somewhat uncomfortable. He had heard what people back in America thought of those serving in the war.
In 1986, Jim had been with his girlfriend Susan (now wife) for about four years when he asked her if she will go see the movie Platoon. Susan was taken back as Jim hated movies, but she did not hesitate since she loved going to the movies. Fifteen minutes into the movie, Jim leaned over and whispered, “I was there.” Susan asked, “Did it rain like that over there?” After that, Jim did not talk to her for two weeks.
Jim helped start the Traverse City Vietnam Veterans Chapter#211 with Larry Butcher, Bill Cedar, John Lebrun, and Bill Swartout. Jim felt it was important to get other Vietnam veterans together. The chapter organized parades and picnics where fellow Vietnam veterans would come from all over the United States to Traverse City. The events helped others feel good about their service. Jim would also dress as Santa Claus and the chapter would pass out gifts to needy families.
Jim was a founding member of the Grand Traverse Veterans Coalition. The GTC Coalition would grow to become the main hub for veteran organizations for the area. Jim was a board member for the Grand Traverse County Department of Veterans Affairs. He was a committee member for over 20 years. He stepped down after being Chairman in 2018.
He found great reward in showing appreciation to his fellow veterans. He was responsible for putting together and facilitating the Veteran’s Day ceremony at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Traverse City and Elks Lodge #323 for over 20 years. Being a former TCAPS bus driver, for the past 15 years, Jim held a Veteran’s Day ceremony at the bus garage for all drivers that are veterans. A breakfast buffet was always included out of his own pocket. That is just how Jim was.
Jim Wegener was always the person to have on your side. He was fiercely loyal to everyone he loved and would literally give the shirt off his back if it was needed. He was a veteran’s best friend. He wanted to make sure that all veterans were appreciated.
Jim never wanted to go to D.C. but after some pushing, his wife got him to go in 2010. He visited the monuments but struggled at the Vietnam Memorial as he found names of those he served with.
Jim Wegener passed away on November 8, 2019. He had planned the Veteran’s Day ceremony. He had a binder that held the ceremony agendas for all his Veteran’s Day events. The year 2019 was to be his last year as master of ceremonies as he was handing it off to someone else. Within the binder was this Farewell Thank you:
As I get a bit older each year, I have really begun to appreciate the freedoms that I have. We live in the greatest country in the world, due in part to the efforts of our armed forces who often put themselves in harm’s way to protect our rights, freedoms, and our people. I just wanted to personally say to each of you that served that I really appreciate what you did to protect us all. God Bless You, and God Bless America.-Jim Wegener
Those words seem to leave such an imprint of who Jim was.
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