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When War and Life Interrupt the Dream

His whole life, Howard Weistling wanted to be a comic strip artist. But in December 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. And Weistling felt compelled to enlist. He trained to be an aircraft mechanic with the Army in Gila Bend.

[Howard Weistling’s grandson] Mike, who lives in Flagstaff, said after flight engineer training Howard was promptly shipped off to Europe. On his maiden flight, his plane was shot down over Austria.

The entire crew of eight men landed safely in Austria. But a farmer found them and turned them over to a prisoner of war camp in Barth, Germany. Howard’s son, Morgan Weistling, says it was freezing in northern Germany and the men almost starved to death.

Hungry and homesick Weistling coped the only way he knew how. He drew a comic strip. The book, cigarette wrappers bound together with scrap metal, was sent around camp.

“This was the story he would tell me all my life,” [son] Morgan said. “He’d say, ‘I’d do one panel of the story. And then it would get passed around the whole camp.’ And eventually it would make it back and he’d do another segment of the story and it would go around. This would go on for months. It kept the morale of everybody up because they had something to look forward to.”

Seventy-five years later the “comic book” shows up.

“I got this email out of the blue that said, ‘I’m a retired businessman from New York,'” Morgan recalled. “‘I think I have something that might belong to you.'”

The man said one of his business partners embezzled a lot of money from their company.

“And he went out and bought a truckload of Nazi artifacts before we could catch him,” Morgan said. “So we couldn’t get the money back. All we had was this truckload of Nazi artifacts and we’re Jewish!”

The truck contained three of Hitler’s watercolor paintings, billy clubs and his father’s comics with Howard’s name engraved on the cover.

KJZZ Public Radio in Arizona got the story, then NPR carried it.

“I cried more — and I hate to say this — than even when my father died,” Morgan said. “He had died seven years before this. All I could think of was if he had been alive, this would’ve killed him. He would’ve been shocked.”

 

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