Dying man gets one last visit ‘home’

GLADSTONE – When Karen Friets learned that her brother, Carl Weisse, was suffering from terminal cancer and possibly had only a few short months to live, she came face to face with the realization that she and her brother might never have the opportunity to see each other again before his death. Suddenly, Gladstone and Georgia, where Carl makes him home, seemed half a world away and both Karen and her brother lacked the funds for him to make the trip to Gladstone one last time.

But not to worry. Once the word got out about the siblings’ light, area military service organizations and a helping hand from at least one local business owner and Delta Airlines offered their assistance. Helping with the project were Central U.P. Chapter 345 Vietnam Veterans of America, Chapter 24 Disabled American Veterans, American Legion Post 82, American Legion Unit 71 Auxiliary, Squadron 71 Sons of the American Legion, Marine Corps League, Michigan Patriot Guard and Kohnert’s Auto Repair.

Both Carl and Karen were born in California and raised in the Perkins area. Both enlisted in the U.S. Army – Karen from 1978-82 and again from 1988-92 and Carl from 1980-96. While serving in the military as a paratrooper, Carl was deployed in 1983 to Grenada. For his military service, Carl has been awarded a number of military commendations, including numerous Army Achievement Medals and Army Commendation Medals, the Combat Infantryman Badge and Expert Infantryman Badge, and Good Conduct Medal. After his discharge as an E5 (staff sergeant), he settled in Georgia where a number of his relatives had made their home.

Carl, who served as a caretaker for an elderly couple, said his affliction began in the summer of 2012 when a tick became embedded in his neck and began to fester, causing headaches.

“At first doctors thought it was lime disease,” he said. “But the medicine they gave me didn’t do anything at all.”

A subsequent visit to a cancer center revealed that Carl was suffering from both brain and lung cancer – both unrelated to the tick. He initially underwent radiation treatment on the three tumors in his brain – one the size of a walnut and the other the size of a grape. Unfortunately, the tumors were diagnosed as inoperable and Carl was given only 6-12 months to live.

As the months went by, both Carl and his sister began sharing the hope that Carl would return to this area for a final visit.

“This is where I was raised and I wanted to come,” Carl explained. “My last visit here was more than 30 years ago.”

“I was on the phone one night and Carl asked me to send him some pasties and saltwater taffy,” Karen said. “I joked that it would be cheaper to bring Carl up here than pay to ship him the pasties and the taffy. After we talked about it, Carl told me that he wanted to come back to the U.P., but we were both up against the reality that it was no longer a reality.”

Coincidentally, Karen shared her plight with Rene Lippens, commander of the VFW in Escanaba, and suddenly the dream was about to become a reality.

“After we talked, he (Lippens) offered me a check for $25,” she said. “Then Ray Phillips, president of the Vietnam Veterans of America called an hour later and said he had a check for $100 for me.” An additional $250 was forthcoming from a hardship grant offered by the Disabled American Veterans along offers from other veteran organization and a cut-rate airline ticket from Delta Airlines.

“I was flabbergasted!” Karen said. “Post 71 Sons of the American Legion made Carl an honorary member and also made a donation.”

Once Carl he received word that his airline ticket had been provided and he landed at the Delta County Airport in late February, both he and Karen were stunned to see the delegation of veterans who turned up at the airport to welcome him “home.”

“There were 40 or 50 people at the airport when the plane landed,” Karen said. “There were even members of the Patriot Guard, DAV, Vietnam Veterans, Marines and Legionnaires. It was very cool.”

After a week’s stay in Gladstone, Carl has since returned to his home in Georgia and, according to Karen, his condition has worsened.

“I think the trip and the weather, both here and in Georgia, wore him out,” she said. “His cough has gotten worse and he is really suffering from compartment injuries in his legs and spine. You can’t make 291 jumps out of an airplane and not have it do some damage and it catches up with you. Both his legs and spine are in horrible condition.”

Since his return, Carl underwent a series of chemotherapy treatments.

“He was fine for about three or four days and he was beginning to think, ‘Oh this isn’t so bad,’ then it hit him. He’s lost all his hair, including his beard.” A second round of chemotherapy is now underway.”

Despite the grim progress of Carl’s disease, both he and his sister are hopeful that this recent visit won’t end up being their last.

“There’s no way to tell,” Carl said. “Who knows…maybe doctors will come up with a miracle cure.”