After the death of his father, a World War II veteran, Eric Wieboldt said he hoped the community would remembers Bob Wieboldt’s decency and “stick-to-itness” — what his father called “real Americana” — as the character of the country changes.
Eric, 61, said that beyond his father’s distinguished war service, he devoted himself to bettering his community for decades, without paying much mind to political correctness or — when he suffered a fall, then contracted pneumonia weeks ago — his own health.
“He was pretty cantankerous, generally, but there were tender moments he’d talk about,” Eric said on Tuesday. “He was as stubborn as they came.”
Bob, who died on Nov. 26 at age 98, grew up in Merrick, which had no high school at the time. Thus, he often walked to school — on at least one occasion through two feet of snow — before being drafted into the Army Air Corps in 1942.
He became a gunnery instructor, and, near the war’s end, was set to head to a “hot spot” in the Pacific, Eric said, when two people in his barracks, in Texas, contracted polio, and the whole barracks was quarantined.
“So they didn’t go,” Eric said. “Then, Harry [Truman] dropped the egg” — the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ending the war.
In the early 1950s, Bob and other veterans began to meet in local restaurants. Their informal group eventually became the Merrick American Legion Post 1282, on Merrick Road, where Bob served as commander several times.
The Herald has reported previously on Bob’s decades of service to wounded veterans through the Legion (bit.ly/2SwGRpf). This week, Eric recalled how his father carried the grit, decency and determination of the “Greatest Generation” through the rest of his life.
One of the crowning achievements of Bob’s golden years was the restoration of the St. John of Jerusalem Chapel in Levittown. The Wieboldts had purchased a family plot in the cemetery around the 1856 building; Bob’s late wife, Muriel, is buried there.
The chapel fell into disrepair, and both Wieboldts stepped up to help in their own way. Eric put his company, Wieboldt Roofs and More, to work on renovating the interior, for half of the other companies’ estimates. Bob lobbied, in his gruff, inimitable style, Eric said, for tens of thousands in grant money, and even put his own money into re-roofing the chapel.
“My father, at 91, started kicking ass,” Eric said. “He really did. He went up and down the neighborhoods. He called Albany so many times about this one grant that was being rescinded that he was almost talking to Andrew Cuomo . . . He didn’t go through the channels. He didn’t know about being ‘P.C.,’ but he did it with charm and determination and stick-to-itness, and that’s what got it done.”
Eric called the chapel restoration his business’s “crowning jewel.” Bob will be buried in the family plot there in the spring.
Eric said — without a hint of sentimentality — that the stubbornness and self-sufficiency that defined his father’s life also probably contributed to his death.
The family has owned a small cabana in Point Lookout for generations. Bob continued to drive there from Levittown often, even at 98. “He was so stubborn he wouldn’t use a walking stick,” Eric said. “He was a little wobbly but still walking well, driving well — especially compared to some of these morons you see on the road. ‘Slow and easy,’ he used to say.”
Columbus Day weekend, after arriving at the cabana, Bob caught his foot on the edge of some concrete outside the home and fell, breaking vertebrae. Eric and others had urged him to use a wheelchair, but Bob wouldn’t budge.
George Burns wasn’t joking, Eric said, when he said that the key to a long life was not to fall. “When old people fall, they can’t move,” he said. “I was so angry at him. I said, ‘You son of a bitch, with your stubbornness, you just did yourself in.’”
Bob died, in a little over a month, of pneumonia, which he came down with while rehabilitating at Sunrise of East Meadow.
The father and son has “some of the best, most rewarding conversations” in Bob’s final days, in the hospital, while he could barely speak, Eric said. “By eye contact, and what he would write — he had amazing handwriting. We had some rough patches over the years, but I always knew he had my back.”
Bob’s life was full of incident and hard-fought victories. His son said, however, that more than mourning his father, he was mourning the character of a generation.
“It’s so important to recognize these people, and for someone to hold on to this decency,” he said. “Where are these guys? Who’s coming next? Who are gonna come back and for communities like that? To lose that . . . I’m one of the last in line to remember this stuff.”
A memorial service will be held on Dec. 14, at the Bellmore Presbyterian Church, from 4 to 8 p.m. The American Legion will hold a ceremony at 7 p.m. that day. Post members should start assembling at the church by 6:30 p.m.