Friday morning, area veterans met at the Great Bend American Legion Hall for coffee and a chance to honor an old friend and one of the three known U.S. military Generals from Great Bend. Legion member Hugh “Bud” Steadman requested the Golden Plains Quilts of Valor present General Richard Wegner, a two-star General, retired, with the U.S. Army Air Force was a member of the Great Bend High School Class of 1943, and served his country during both World War II and the Korean Conflict, and he was a classmate of both Steadman and Virginia (Lonnon) Sharp, both in attendance.
Shortly after graduating from high school, Wegner entered the U.S. Army as an infantryman, and served in The Battle of the Bulge and in Germany, and left service as a Private First Class. When he returned home, he attended the University of Kansas on the G.I. Bill, and decided to re-enlist in the military, this time as a Lieutenant, training for air support.
“At the time, I was dating this fine lady,” he said of his wife, who accompanied him on the drive from Kansas City that morning. “We were given a choice between infantry, artillery, or air. I already knew about the infantry, and artillery was really loud, so for no other reason, I picked air. Besides that, air got paid a whole lot better, and since I was dating her, I was broke.”
General Wegner said he went on to fly 110 missions during the Korean Conflict. Later, he became a commercial pilot and flew for another 30 years, according to Steadman.
The tongue-in-cheek jokes and banter between veterans from all branches of the service were shared before the informal ceremony where Debbie Berkley, coordinator for Golden Plains Quilts of Valor presented he and his wife, Jean, with the quilt. The quilt was made by Susan Gray. She was unable to attend the ceremony as she was teaching a group of upper elementary school aged children to quilt at the Barton County Extension.
“All quilts made by members of Golden Plains Quilts of Valor are presented to local veterans,” she said. The group registered with the national organization in January. For years prior to that, they sent quilts to Abilene where they were first displayed at the Eisenhower Museum, and then they were given to veterans from other areas, and the local quilters were never informed who received them. Since then, they have presented 42 quilts, with anywhere from four to five presented on the last Friday of each month at the Great Bend American Legion.
The 18 quilters meet monthly at the Legion, arriving with sewing machines and supplies. The Ladies Auxiliary helps pay for the fabrics, so the quilters have no expenses, Berkley said. Each quilt comes with a “thank you” pillowcase.
Though he arrived in full uniform, General Wegner treated the men and women in attendance as equals, and personally greeted each, sharing memories of growing up and attending high school here. He was a member of the GBHS boys basketball team, where he received his nickname, “Rocket.”
He was in the same graduating class as Jack Matthews, whose younger brother, Don Matthews, was present. The brothers were featured in a Tribune series in September. Jack also served in the Army at the Battle of the Bulge.
“Good old dirty Jack,” General Wegner reminisced with Don. “He knew all the tricks.”
Don smiled. “We all called him that too,” he said. “He sure did.”
Great Bend was home to two other military Generals: Brigadier Gen. Leslie J. Campbell Jr., a 1940 GBHS graduate and Clemont C. “Monte” Parrish, a two-star U.S. Army Reserves General who received the Silver Star and several other medals who served early in WWII beginning in 1937.