Web writes: "Because I am a former newspaper reporter, I have been doing a history project for Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church. I ran across this story and wanted to share it."
Peace Was Electric
It might have been May, but cold snow was still gripping his toes.
Harvey Wieprecht, 92, was telling how he the Portlander and fellow ski troops in the U.S. 10th Mountain Division were preparing to start a new offensive against the Germans the next day into the Alps of northern Italy.
They knew it was the dying days of World War II, but German ski troops had dug in there in the mountains, and they were bound to be tough.
It was not a reassuring thought for survival.
Though reports had been circulating about how German resistance was crumbling, Harvey and others in the division thought that those German ski troops were going to bereatively irremovable.
However, God delivered a surprise to the Americans and allies.
At about 3 p.m. that very afternoon, word came down the line that the war was over. Germany -- with Berlin destroyed and captured by the enemy and Germany's homeland defenses in ruins had surrendered.
The news didn't make sense to him. If what Wieprecht and the others believed what was in front of them was any indication, there appeared to be no apparent troop weakness, or decrease in German morale.
About two hours later, happy, grinning Germans approached their position, waving a white flag.
"We were dumbfounded. There were so many of them. Hundreds. Overwhelming. Thank God the surrender had been that day. If things had been delayed another day and we had gone ahead and launched our offensive, we would have been wiped out.
"I wouldn't be here today, telling you about it," Wieprecht said. "There the Germans had about 2,000 troops. We were told they had about 30."
These were among his memories of the last hours of the world war.
"The German general -- Von Singer and his entourage -- showed up and he and our officers started making arrangements for the German surrender," Wieprecht said.
The enemy was exhausted. "The Germans were so happy. Nearly six years of thunderous bombing, endless marching, wholesale destruction, and savage fighting were finally over.
"We, of course, were happy, too. We realized that if the conflict had gone on for even one more day, we'd no doubt all have been killed."
Both sides were delirious with the news.
But now what? Wieprecht said that American units hung around northern Italy and the rest of Europe for a while, before they got orders to move out.
The 10th was going to be shipped to the Pacific Theater for the last days of the war with Japan. Harvey Wieprecht was enroute when the U.S. dropped the big ones and Japan surrendered.
It wasn't until later that he learned how devastating the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were.
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Wieprecht soon was discharged and he came home.
Born in Portland in 1923, he had attended Portland schools. He graduated from Kenton Elementary and Jefferson High School. When has was 14 or 15, he was introduced to snow and skiing through a Portland newspaper's learn-to-ski program and fell in love with the experience.
He met Betty in English class at Jefferson High School. He didn't have a date for the senior prom. Though younger, she became his date. That started the ball rolling, and it wasn't long before They started dating consistantly.
In July 1943, he entered the armed forces and when he learned that ski troops of the army's newly formed 10th Mountian Division had a welcome mat out and a place for him, he jumped at the chance. "Sounded wonderful to me," he said.
By this time, of course, he had become a ski and mountain-climbing enthusiast.
So he joined up. The division received its mountain training in Colorado.Though often very cold, he felt right at home. He was a veteran skier and became even more so by the time he emerged from military service.
He returned to Portland, but he elected to continue in government service working for the Post Office Department. He logged 30 years government service -- three army and 27 with the Post Office.
If Smith Memorial ever had a parishioner who was athletic and gung-ho it was Wieprecht. In Italy German shrapnel damaged his knee, but Harvey refused a purple heart. "I told them that I didn't think I deserved it," he said.
Soon after his release from military duty, he determined that he wanted to be out of the city -- somewhere in the country.
"One day I picked up the newspaper and there was this ad -- someone wanted to sell some property out along the Sandy River at Troutdale. The guy's wife had died," Harvey said. "And he didn't want the property any more.
"I went out and looked it over. It was all weeds and brush. But I decided it was for me, so we made a deal right there. Betty and I spent my vacation chopping down the jungle."
He and Betty then built there, and though they were closer to Troutdale, they had started attending Smith Memorial Presbyterian Church in Portland-fringing Fairview. No other denomination would do.
His parents were super active in the Kenton Presbyterian Church in Portland -- had always been Presbyterians. So had Betty's people -- at Portland's Vernon Presbyterian Church, where her father was janitor.
Several pastors, interims, and stated supply came and went.
Years later he became a close friend of the Rev. Slider Steuernol, Smith Memorial pastor. "We'd go white water rafting, mountain climbing, skiing and do other snow stuff all the time," he said. "I actually taught him to ski. He became a super enthusiast. I also got his girls involved."
Wieprecht still skis whenever he gets a chance. Downhill or cross-country? "Downhill," he said. "I like to go fast."
But don't call him a daredevil. Because God and His angels were watching over him the whole time. And God called a halt to hostilities just in time.
He's had his nose in the Bible ever since.
Wieprecht was especially fond of Steuernol and the Rev. Cynthia O'Brien, who arrived a few years later. The latter "brought in some great music," albeit a little expensive. She had a certain charisma and he loved her sermons.
(© 2014 Web Ruble – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)