Abraham speech honors Ruston resident who lived through German internment camp, Allied bombing
WASHINGTON - Congressman Ralph Abraham, M.D., R-Alto, today gave a speech on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives to honor the life and service of Ruston resident Adolf "Wes" Wesselhoeft.
Wesselhoeft was born in the United States to German immigrants. During World War II, he and his family were moved to a German internment camp, similar to those of Japanese and Italian Americans. Wesselhoeft's family was eventually traded to the Germans for American POWs, and they survived Allied bombings after being sent to Germany.
Despite these challenges, Wesselhoeft returned to the United States at his earliest possible opportunity and promptly joined the Air Force. He served for 22 years and flew bombers during the Vietnam War where he was exposed to Agent Orange. He is now legally blind.
Dr. Abraham met Wesselhoeft at an event at the Chennault Aviation Museum and wanted to share his incredible story with the rest of the country.
"Wes represents the best of America, a patriot who never gave up on his country. His service to his country, as well as the horrors he and his family suffered in Germany, will never be forgotten. America is better because of people like Wes, those willing to give up everything to serve the American cause," Dr. Abraham said during his speech.
Wesselhoeft and his wife, Shirley, came to Washington to visit with Dr. Abraham before the speech and watched it live from the House gallery.
About 11,000 German Americans lived in these internment camps. Wesselhoeft said he hopes the National Park Service will recognize German internment camps in the same way it has done for Japanese and Italian internment camps.
"I really appreciate what Dr. Abraham said. I hope Congress will do more to recognize German internment," Wesselhoeft said. "We aren't asking for reparations; we just want history to recognize what happened."
Dr. Abraham's speech can be viewed here.
His remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Mr. Speaker I rise today to recognize the incredible life of Lt. Col. Adolf “Wes” Wesselhoeft, who, as a child, was one of 11,000 German-Americans placed in internment camps during World War II.
Wes was born to German immigrants in Chicago in 1936.
When he was seven, his family packed what few things they could and were taken to Crystal City, Texas to a detainment camp built there for German, Japanese and Italian immigrants.
Just a year later, in 1944, his family packed up once again and was sent to New York City to board the S.S. Gripsholm.
The S.S. Gripsholm headed to Portugal where the Wesselhoeft family and 633 other German expatriates and repatriates were exchanged for American prisoners of war and then sent back to Germany.
Once back in Germany, Wes and his family lived in the town of Hamburg with his grandparents. Unfortunately, Hamburg was the center of Allied bombings during World War II. Wes has vivid memories from the bombings, seeking shelter in bunkers with his family.
Despite these experiences, Wes remained a true American patriot, and he was committed to coming home to the United States. After the war ended, Wes and his family moved to Konstanz where he finished school and worked manual labor jobs to save money for a return to America.
He stayed in touch with the American Consulate in Stuttgart, riding his bike two days each way to meet with them until finally in 1958 the Consulate informed him he could return home.
He bought the cheapest passage back to the United States.
Upon arriving in New York, he went straight to a recruiting office to enlist in the Air Force.
Wes served 22 years in the Air Force and flew EC1221Rs and B52s during the Vietnam War. During his service, he was exposed to Agent Orange. He is now legally blind.
Wes, and his wife Shirley, now live in Ruston, Louisiana, where I proudly represent them in Congress.
Wes represents the best of America, a patriot who never gave up on his country.
His service to his country, as well as the horrors he and his family suffered in Germany, will never be forgotten.
America is better because of people like Wes, those willing to give up everything to serve the American cause.
Thank you, I yield back.