Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: The life of an 'average country boy'

John Weilandich chuckles while recounting stories from his past Monday, Feb. 5, 2018, at his home outside Palmyra, Mo. During Weilandich's first check-up with a doctor in 40 years, it was discovered that he needed a heart valve replacement and a triple bypass. | H-W Photo/Phil Carlson
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Feb. 12, 2018 8:45 am

PALMYRA, Mo. -- John Weilandich has been lucky to walk away with his life on more than one occasion.

The St. Louis native-turned-rural Palmyra farmer was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War, shortly after he graduated from Southeast Missouri State University, having attended on a band scholarship and majored in agriculture.

Like many other Vietnam veterans, Weilandich remembers the exact day he received his draft notice -- Jan. 5, 1969. His father, a union carpenter, had served in World War II, but he never spoke about his experiences much, at least not around his family. Weilandich is the same way. He joined the VFW, but he isn't really active in the organization.

"It's just something you want to put behind you really," Weilandich said.

An infantryman, his college degree afforded him the opportunity to become an artillery officer, a position he opted not to pursue because it meant at least an additional 10 months in the Army. After a year spent in Vietnam during which he was wounded in the leg by shrapnel, he made his way stateside in June 1970, completing his enlistment on American soil.

"If I would have extended two more weeks over there, I could have gotten out when I came back," he said, "but I didn't want to spend one more day out in the field. It seemed like you either got killed over there right at first or right at the end. I was ready to come home."

He returned to his wife, Carol, and their young daughter. Carol had given birth in 1968, just before he was drafted.

"It wasn't very good, but there's nothing you can do about it," he said. "If you get drafted, you get drafted."

He had met Carol after his family moved to Hillsboro, Mo., a small community outside St. Louis. They met at church. He said she was very pretty and kind of reserved, and he was drawn to her right away, although he waited several years before making a move. She rejected him at first because she was dating someone else.

"She turned me down," he said, "so I didn't call her for awhile."

The next time he tried, she agreed. They married in December 1967.

Working with a career service through the college after his enlistment, he landed a job buying hogs for Oscar Mayer -- a job Oscar Mayer had promised him before he was drafted, an agreement the company stood by -- and moved to Palmyra. He worked for three different companies in the area -- Oscar Mayer, Wilson and Cargill -- from 1971 to 2001.

In April 1988, Weilandich and two of his friends began building a home in the country between Palmyra and Monroe City. Having worked summers with his father, he had picked up some skills along the way. He also had helped his father build their family's home when the family moved to Hillsboro.

"My two friends and I built all three of our houses," he said. "Mine was the third."

The home was completed in 1988, and the family moved out to the country. Six weeks later, Carol and their youngest son were in a serious accident. Carol broke her back, and their son, who was in seventh grade at the time, broke his thigh and had to be in traction for nine weeks and a body cast for nine weeks.

"That was a trying time," Weilandich said. "At the same time, Wilson was going under. You could see it was coming."

Shortly after the accident, he transitioned over to Cargill. He retired there in 2006.

Now 71, Weilandich's first check-up since his time in the Army was two years ago. His doctor heard a heart murmur. The ultrasound he took showed he needed to have a heart valve replaced, a condition he later found out he had since birth.

"I was going to put it off for another six months," he said, "but I decided to just have it done."

As examinations were being done prior to surgery, his cardiologist discovered that three of his arteries were plugged. His heart valve replacement surgery also would include a triple bypass.

On Aug. 29, 2017, he arrived at Blessing Hospital, where the surgery was done. He was in the hospital for five days.

"It took awhile to bounce back," he said. "I couldn't use my arms to get up and down or lift anything, and everything tasted different."

Weilandich had been working part-time for a neighboring farmer he knows since he retired. After his bypass surgery, he isn't sure if he will be able to go back. He will still keep busy on his own property though, trekking uphill two to four miles per day through the pastures. Farmwork is Weilandich's passion, and he equates sitting to smoking -- both can cause death for the retired.

"I like to say I'm just an average country boy," he said. "A lot of people wouldn't be happy doing this, but I wouldn't be happy doing anything else."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.

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