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EXCHANGE: Son’s cancer helps Ursa man see good of humanity

URSA, Ill. (AP) Patrick Weppler’s easy going nature has been put to the test more than once in his life.

After graduating from high school, he had no real plans for his future.

“I wasn’t a very disciplined student,” Weppler said. “I knew I needed to do something after school. The National Guard recruiter called me, and I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ It was probably less than a week between that call and when I went to St. Louis (for Military Entrance Processing Station or MEPS). The Guard helped me get my head on straight. It made me mature a lot.

“At the time, the Guard never got called up for anything. The last time the unit here in Quincy went to war was Vietnam. What were my chances of being called for a war? We weren’t even really fighting anyone.”

The First Gulf War had drawn to a close, and Weppler saw no other conflicts on the horizon.

“Before 9/11, there just wasn’t a sense of urgency,” he said. “After, there was a sense of the National Guard transforming more into a military unit, as opposed to a bunch of weekend warriors. Everybody took it seriously, because our lives were on the line now.”

Weppler enrolled in college while in the National Guard, but he dropped out soon after.

“I got a full-time job with the Guard in Springfield,” he said. “After 9/11, we were mobilizing troops, so I was going to mobilization stations, making sure all their pay was right. In ’03, I got deployed myself.

“We went to Wisconsin in February for our training. Somewhere down the line plans changed, and we sat in Wisconsin until July. Then we got sent to Fort Bragg to fix airborne equipment. There were always rumors that we would be sent to Baghdad or to Kuwait. Every couple of weeks there was a new rumor, but it never really seemed real to me.”

After being deployed stateside for nine months, Weppler’s company returned to Quincy. He married his girlfriend, Leila, soon after.

“She was planning a wedding while I was deployed the first time,” he said. “We left on Valentine’s Day 2003. I proposed to her the day before.”

In 2008, he was deployed again.

“We were stationed at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait,” he said. “As a transportation company, we would take stuff from Kuwait to Iraq. I was the supply sergeant for the unit. I did all the logistical stuff and made sure we didn’t lose anything.

“I had a very specific job. I didn’t think about the danger too much. But when we got over there, the unit we were replacing, their lead truck got hit with an IED on their final mission. They were packed up and ready to go. That’s when it became real.

“I got to go on one mission. I just didn’t feel right that my friends — basically my family — were going into danger and I couldn’t do it, so I finally talked command into letting me go. I spent a week and a half on the road. It was scary, but I’d trained for it. I just drove the humvee, but there was some validation. Some people are fobits — a person who never leaves the base. My guys knew I wasn’t like that. They knew I had a job that required me to be on base, but I still wanted to experience it.”

In January 2009, Weppler returned to Quincy and tried to settle back into his life. His daughter, Isabella, 8, had been born while he was home on leave in 2008. In 2010, Weppler and his wife had another child, a boy named Jackson.

“I was on the road all the time when Jackson was a baby,” he said. “I missed a lot. When I retired (from the military), I just wanted to do something simple that didn’t require a lot of thinking, something where I would be home. All I did was load beer onto a cart, wheel it into a store, stock it and leave.

“Then Jack got sick, so I took a leave of absence.”

Jackson Weppler, 7, was diagnosed with hepatoblastoma, a rare liver cancer, on Oct. 30, 2012.

“I thought Jack had a hernia,” he said. “After I got off work I took him into the doctor. We were supposed to get a haircut and go to dinner after. The nurse practitioner felt around, then someone else did, and someone else did.

“They said they were going to send him to Children’s Hospital. My first thought was that we could get a haircut before we went. I can look back at it now, and everything was in slow motion. You’re moving normal, but everything around you is slowed down. There’s no protocol for this. No parent plans for this. There’s nothing in the world that ever could prepare you for this.”

Jackson underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, which proved ineffective without transplant.

“We were in Children’s Hospital from October to the end of February,” he said. “We kept pestering our oncologist and asking when he’s going to get on the list. He set us down and said the transplant team didn’t think he was eligible. He said more than likely he would have to go to hospice. He’s 3 years old.

“You can’t wrap your head around that. You get super protective, and neither of us would take no for an answer. I contacted Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. By the time we stepped off the plane in Pittsburgh, I had six different hospitals lined up. I was just going to go from city to city until I found someone that said, ‘Yes.’ “

After Jackson’s diagnosis, another Quincy child was diagnosed with a similar condition. He didn’t need a full transplant, and he also survived.

“It’s a club that you don’t want to be a part of,” he said. “Once you hear those words, ‘Your child has cancer,’ you’re a part of this club. Once we heard he had cancer, we reached out to his parents to let them know the little things that would help them out — what we did, who to call. The little things like that comfort you.

“When the first little girl we had met in Carbondale passed away, my wife and Isabella flew down for the funeral. She meant the world to us. She was just full of life, and the first day we were in the hospital, she took Jack’s hand and wanted to play.

“You know someone in the hospital has passed away, because they bring security guards up. I understand. I would have lost my mind if I would have lost Jack. I tried to stay positive, but it was on my mind all the time.”

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Jackson received his new liver April 25, 2013, while in Pittsburgh. He has been cancer-free for four years.

“We got called out twice for false calls,” he said. “The livers just weren’t viable. When we got one, it was the perfect match for him. Everything lined up perfectly.

“When he was going through all this, my mom was battling cancer. As soon as he rang that bell and was cancer free, she just kind of let go. It’s like once she knew her grandson was good, she was able to pass away.”

The Wepplers recently opened a dialogue with the family of Jackson’s liver donor.

“Over the past few years, we’ve written a few letters back and forth; expressing our gratitude, letting them know how Jackson is doing,” he said. “At the beginning of April (2017), the (donor’s) sister contacted us through Facebook. We messaged back and forth. Maybe this summer, when we go back out to Pittsburgh, we’ll meet them.

“I try to put myself in their shoes. He died from meningitis in the brain, and I think to myself, in that particular moment of grief how could I say yes? Yes, harvest my son or daughter — who I love more than anything in this world — and spread those body parts all over, even when I want them whole and alive. To do that took amazing strength, and we wanted to put a face to that gift.”

Weppler is working to complete his degree in history education and is expected to graduate in spring 2019.

“There are male teachers out there, but I think there need to be more,” he said. “There need to be more positive male role models out there, and I like to think I could be that for someone. Even if it’s just one person, that’s one person’s life who was changed, and it makes the world a better place.

“When Jack was sick, our friends set up a benefit for us. The (Knights of Columbus) was just packed. Hundreds and hundreds of people. It showed me there is humanity in this world. There is good in this world. Am I going to change the world? Probably not. I’m realistic, but if we just start on a small scale, then maybe we can do something. Common human decent values — kindness and generosity. That’s very much alive in our community. I’ve witnessed it. I want to see it grow.”


Source: The Quincy Herald Whig,[1]


Information from: The Quincy Herald-Whig,[2]


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Jim Bunning, MLB pitcher and US senator, dies

Jim Bunning, who showed much of the same combativeness as a U.S. congressman as he had during his Hall of Fame career as a hard-throwing pitcher in baseball’s major leagues, died at the age of 85, his son said on Saturday.

“Heaven got its No 1 starter today. Our lives & the nation are better off because of your love & dedication to family,” read a Twitter message from his son, David Bunning.

Bunning, who became the first Hall of Famer to serve in the U.S. Congress, representing Kentucky in the U.S. Senate and a Cincinnati-area district in the House of Representatives, led a “long and storied life,” said Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader.

“From his days in the major leagues to his years as my colleague in the Senate … Jim rarely shied away from a new adventure,” McConnell, one of Kentucky’s current senators, said in a statement. A foe of abortion and gay marriage and a backer of tax cuts, gun rights and the Iraq war, the conservative Republican served in the House from 1987 to 1998. He was first elected to the Senate in 1998. After two terms, Bunning announced he would not seek re-election in 2010 due to difficulty raising funds. His erratic behavior by that point had made him something of an embarrassment for Republican colleagues.

In a baseball career that covered much of the 1950s and 1960s, Bunning pitched no-hitters for both the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies, becoming the first pitcher to hurl such gems in each major league. While he won plenty of headlines as a baseball standout, Bunning was more of a backup in Congress. Time magazine, in April 2006, ranked Bunning as among the nation’s “five worst senators,” dubbing him “the underperformer” who was hostile to his staff and showed little interest in policy unless it involved baseball.

Still, Bunning had his moments on Capitol Hill. As a member of the ethics committee, Bunning helped lead the charge against a House banking overdraft scandal in 1992 that contributed to Democrats losing control of the chamber two years later for the first time in four decades. In 2002, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States, he teamed up with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer of California to win passage of legislation to arm airline pilots.

Bunning won re-election to the Senate in 2004 in a bitter contest that raised questions about his mental health and strange behavior. At one point, Bunning said his opponent, Democratic state Sen. Daniel Mongiardo, looked like one of the sons of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Bunning accused Mongiardo of passing on “horrible rumors” about Bunning’s health. Bunning also refused to give the news media advanced notice of his appearances, began to travel with a security guard and accused his opponent’s staffers of having physically run into his wife at a campaign event, leaving her black and blue.

On the day of the election, Bunning, who once enjoyed a big lead in the polls, narrowly defeated Mongiardo, 51 percent to 49 percent. The following year, Bunning, who played baseball during an era marked by low wages and an open devotion to the game, introduced a bill to crack down on performance-enhancing drugs in pro sports. Just hours before the Senate was expected to pass the measure, Major League Baseball and its players’ association announced an agreement to toughen drug tests and penalties.

Bunning was born on Oct. 23, 1931, in Southgate, Ky. He entered the minor leagues in 1950 and made it to the major leagues six years later, after graduating from Xavier University. In 1957, Bunning became the only pitcher ever to strike out Ted Williams – considered one of baseball’s greatest hitters – three times in one game.

He had a no-hitter for the Detroit Tigers in 1958 and in 1964 pitched a perfect game for the Philadelphia Phillies. He also played for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Los Angeles Dodgers.

He retired in 1971 with a lifetime record of 224 wins and 184 losses and a reputation of hitting batters who challenged him with an inside fastball. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.

Veterans: Morrell brothers serve as Marines

All three Morrell brothers joined the Marine Corps after high school, because, recently asked why, Roger and Ray responded, “Why not?”

Roger, Tom and Ray Morrell, graduates of Mandan High School, enlisted one after the other. Roger was the first to join just six months after graduation in 1980. Tom enlisted in 1983, and Ray in 1985.

+1 Veterans: Morrell Brothers Serve As Marines

The Morrell brothers, Ray, left, Tom, and Roger, of Mandan, were featured in an article in the Mandan News in 1986.


The Morrell name is “synonymous with Mandan,” Ray says of the family with seven Morrell children, four girls and three boys.

“We’re related to everyone,” Roger says, and then laughs. Roger, now 55, joined the Marine Corps because his life was quickly spiraling out of control, he said.

“Let’s just say I had a problem with authority,” Roger said. Ray, now 49, graduated high school in 1985 and planned to ship out to Marine Corps boot camp, but a car accident put a small dent in his plans.

On graduation night in 1985, his ’64 Chevrolet Impala with crushed velvet interior as he so fondly remembers was totaled after he crashed into a light pole trying to avoid a rear-end collision. He suffered a head injury, but, six months later, he signed a waiver and went to boot camp. Since a young age, Ray knew he wanted to be a Marine.

“My mom can attest to this: I was 13 years old, filling out Marine Corps recruiting cards so they were calling my home and mom would answer the phone (and say), ‘You know he s only 13, right?'” he said.

A deceased brother

Their late brother, Tom, died June 14, 1987, while working as a military policeman. Tom, who was 21 at the time, died from injuries he sustained after falling from a four-story jet engine test cell at a Marine Corps Air Station in Yuma, Ariz.

“He wanted to be a cop, and he became an MP,” Ray said of his brother whose name is enshrined in a memorial for fallen law enforcement officers in Washington, D.C. Roger and Ray did 13 weeks of Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego. From there, Roger did additional logistics training for three months and Ray did aviation ordnance training for six months.

“You do nothing without being told,” Roger said of boot camp.

Despite his self-described problem with authority, Roger conceded it was a shock, but he learned quickly. After job training, Ray was first stationed in Hawaii, but he traveled to 32 states and five countries during his six years in the Marine Corps.

“My first year I had over 150,000 air miles,” he said. “I truly enjoyed it.”

As an aviation ordnance technician, it was Ray’s job to load the bombs, rockets and explosives onto aircraft and maintain the weapons systems. Roger was first stationed in El Toro, Calif., and he was part of a Marine group that did ground supply. His experience in the Marine Corps includes other jobs, including air supply, motor transport and Marine security guard.

“I’ve been around the world twice,” said Roger, who has seen 10 countries and spent 10 years in California. Most recently, he lived in Quantico, Va., before recently moving back to North Dakota.

Action in Beirut

Roger was a Marine security guard in Beirut, Lebanon, during significant bombing on Oct. 23, 1983, when more than 225 Marines died. Roger was off-duty on the day of the attack, playing softball with other soldiers on the American University of Beirut campus. He remembers immediately going into lockdown. Ray, a sophomore in high school at the time, remembers that day, and being “glued to CNN trying to find any glimpse” of Ray’s status “because I’ve got mom and the rest of the family.”

It was two days before Roger got the opportunity to call home.

They were concerned from the get-go,” Roger said. “But it s where I wanted to go, it s exactly what I wanted to do, because it s different. I had purpose. Roger then went to Helsinki, Finland, as a Marine security guard working as part of the entourage with President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. After that, he came back to the United States and did logistics.

Civilian life

After six years as a Marine, Ray returned home and later became heavily involved in his community. His first job when he got home was as a carpet layer the first thing he could get. He thought it was important to start working right away and get back on his feet making money. Ray is the commandant of the Dakota Leathernecks Detachment #1419 of the Marine Corps League, which was chartered in 2014. His current largest undertaking is the renovation of a more than 100-year-old Price Consolidated School building west of Mandan. Marines are fixing it up to become a clubhouse for the group. Ray said there’s a real need for a place where Marines can come together.

“We are our own breed of people. We have our own language. We have our own way of doing things,” he said. “And to understand that, first off, you have to be a Marine.”

The group also is developing a plan of action to address veteran suicides, according to Ray, who said,lLast year, through social media, he was approached five times in regards to suicides and attempted suicides of Marines.

“They’re coming home and they don’t know what to do,” Ray said. “They’re sitting there spinning around trying to figure out where their life is.”

When Roger left the Marine Corps in 1999, after 19 years of service, he decided he need some R&R.

“I just sat back and relaxed for a little bit, because it was just necessary,” said Roger, who was married and resided with his wife in Quantico. He found a job as a buyer for a local company, buying machines and tearing them apart to sell the parts. After that, he worked for General Dynamics, as part of the information technology team that renovated the Pentagon post-9/11. Roger recently moved back home to be closer to family and lives just south of Tappen.