WWII veteran makes history fun for students - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

WWII veteran makes history fun for students

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MERRILL (WAOW) -- A Merrill area veteran has a lot of war stories, and the scars to prove it. Now, he's sharing his past with students hoping to make history fun.

Take a look around Ralph Wehlitz's basement and you'll feel as though you're back in 1930's.

Throughout the last fifty years, Wehlitz has worked to turn his basement into a replica World War II railroad. A railroad that the veteran knows well.

“One tends to have some nostalgia about the period in which you grew up," said Wehlitz.

Each track is handmade and each train is to scale.

“Some things were very hard,” explained Wehlitz. “Particularly working with one hand.”

Wehlitz lost his left hand during the war.

“German artillery action in Italy," explained Wehlitz. “Sometimes I had to pick around and experiment to see what I could one-handedly.”

But, he says, it's not about what he doesn't have.

“Like any hobby you have to work hard at it and that's what makes it fun," said Wehlitz.

While he calls this a hobby, it's easy to see this is much more.

“It's awesome because you can see how the railroad is and he explains good how it was back in the olden days," said Danyelle Kottke, a fourth grader.

“You get all these, 'wow' 'awesome' reactions," laughed Wehlitz.

Fourth graders from Jefferson Elementary School in Merrill visited the hand-made railroad as part of an American history lesson.

“It's important to know where we've been so we can get a better grasp on where we're going," said Wehlitz.

As for where he's going, Wehlitz doesn't know.

But, one thing's for sure, there's always work on the railroad.

Wehlitz turns 90 years old Wednesday. On Tuesday, the students made sure he got some birthday love. Each one made him a hand-made card. They even sang happy birthday making sure to include the "how old are you now" part.

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