Hello Daylily Friends,
I have just returned from Milbank, South Dakota. Diana's father, Willie Giessinger, age 90, passed away on Monday, January 17, 2011. Willie was an extraordinary man. His parents were immigrants from Odessa, Russia, and they settled in Milbank, Grant County, South Dakota. Willie's parents were farmers, and the farming work in the 1920s was hard work. They had shovels, hoes, buckets, and other implements, but basically, it was just do the best that you can with the hands that you have. Willie's family did have horses for their labor, and Willie was "in charge" of the horses. Willie worked on the farm until WWII arrived, and then Willie enlisted in the United States Marine Corps. Willie was sent to the Pacific Theater to help liberate the islands that had been taken by the Japanese. I'm showing a picture that I took of Willie that is in a frame in our house.
Willie was with the first landing of Marines who came ashore on the Island of Okinawa, under heavy enemy fire, and Willie was wounded. He also helped liberate several other Islands including the Solomon Islands. Because of his heroism, Willie was awarded many medals including the Purple Heart. After the War Willie went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he drove a "Street Car." I have seen Street Cars in pictures, but I don't remember ever having ridden in one. Willie soon met Margie who would often accompany him as he operated the Street Car around Minneapolis. They were soon married, and they returned to Milbank to raise their family. They had 5 children, with their first child being my beautiful wife, Diana Rae. They also have 7 grandchildren, and 16 great grandchildren. To support his family Willie sold American Motors automobiles, and he became known across South and North Dakota, and across Minnesota, as "Wild Willie." I'm showing a picture that I took of Marge and Willie's home where they have lived in Milbank all these years.
One important fact about Willie's life was that for 63 years, up until the day of his death, he always presented the American Flag to the survivor of any deceased Veteran in Grant County. Willie always said that this was an obligation that was important. Can you imagine doing such a thing for every Veteran who passes away in the place where you live, for 63 years? Willie was a member of the American Legion, The Veteran's of Foreign Wars, and the Disabled American Veterans. Willie served as the Commander of both the VFW and the DAV. Willie was also a loyal and dedicated member of St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Milbank. I'm showing a picture of the Church, and I'm also showing a picture that I took of the TV on the morning of Willie's funeral. The temperature was 20 degrees below zero. Notwithstanding this extreme cold, the Sanctuary at St. Lawrence was filled with hundreds and hundreds of people who came to say goodbye to Willie.
Willie's hometown, his state, and indeed his Nation, are all better places because of the life he lived. He cared about people, and he knew everyone in the County, and called them by their names. I will tell you a short story. About 25 years ago Diana and I came back to visit with Marge and Willie. Willie said, "I'm going to Trevett's Cafe for breakfast in the morning. Would be glad to have you come along." So, I got up early, because Willie got up early, and out the door of the house we went. I was bundled up like an Eskimo from the North Pole. Nevertheless, the sun was just coming up, and Willie said, quite spontaneously as he walked, "Oh what a bright, sunny day!" My friends, it was not what I think of here in Georgia as a "bright sunny day." It was frigid. There was snow and ice as far as I could see. Still, for Willie, it was a "bright, sunny day." We went to the Restaurant, had a wonderful time, and talked with the farmers and merchants and friends who had gathered there that morning. Throughout Willie's life he always looked at every day as a "bright, sunny day."
When the Priest spoke at Willie's funeral he quoted the scripture that I remember hearing so many times from my good friend, Reverened Gordon Thompson. Whenever Rev. Thompson would preside over a funeral he would always quote Jesus' words from John 14:2-4:
"In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told
you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take
you to be with me, that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the
place where I am going."
We will miss you Willie.