Family Guard: As Frank Welter retires from the Missouri National Guard, his two sons continue to serve

Monday, May 3, 2010

When Frank Welter joined the Missouri National Guard at age 21, he thought it would be a good part-time job and a way to help his country during the Vietnam War, all while following in the footsteps of his big brother, who was also in the National Guard. He didn't think he'd stay in the Guard more than six years, but he enjoyed it so much that he continued to re-enlist until his retirement in 2007.

Frank Welter poses with wife Linda and son Jonathan on their Chaffee, Mo., farm. (Kristin Eberts)

"I don't regret any of it. If I could go back and change it, I don't know what I would do," said Welter, now 62. "It gave me a feeling that I was accomplishing something, and I liked all the soldiers I had under me." The Chaffee, Mo.-area resident was honored at Cape Girardeau's armory in February for his nearly four decades of service. Over the years, he also inspired others, including his two sons, to serve their country.

"When you sign a contract, it's just like in civilian life," said Welter. "You need to fulfill your commitment. I hope that I helped a lot of fellow soldiers, especially the younger ones, grow up and mature. That's what I strive for, and I preach toward education." His advice to young soldiers has always been to get in the military, stay in the military and learn everything they can. "There may not be a slot for you to go right now, but if you do your education and pay your dues right now, then when the time comes, you'll be prepared and you'll be there waiting," Welter said.

That's what Welter did, and he was ready to go to Panama three times and Honduras once, and to help his native Southeast Missouri during the floods of 1993 and 1995. Welter advanced his way up the ranks to master sergeant and worked mainly in food service. In Panama and Honduras, his unit helped build and repair roads, bridges and wells, while in Southeast Missouri they filled and stacked sandbags and watched for leaks. Regarding the floods, Welter's strongest memory -- aside from the massive amount of water -- was the number of people who took vacation time to travel from other states and help Southeast Missouri.

Retired National Guardsman Frank Welter stands next to a 1950's Ferguson TO-35 tractor on his farm in Chaffee, Mo., on Thursday, April 15, 2010. Since retiring, Welter enjoys working on the farm, including fixing up old tractors. (KRISTIN EBERTS)

"It was amazing," Welter said. "My remark was that I didn't know there were still people like that. They all made a sacrifice."

---- Retired National Guardsman Frank Welter takes his horse Scooby back to the field on their farm in Chaffee, Mo., on Thursday, April 15, 2010. Welter's son Jonathan is also in the National Guard. Since retiring, Welter enjoys working on the farm.

Though Welter never went to combat, he wanted to go to Iraq, but was unable because of a medical condition.

"I was getting up there in years, and I thought if I could go, then someone else wouldn't have to. Better that something happens to me than a 20-year-old," he said. "That was one of my saddest times -- to see the rest of the soldiers leave, and I couldn't go with them."

But it can be said that, in some way, Welter did serve overseas: his son Douglas, age 40, is in the Air Force and has been to Korea once and Iraq twice. His other son Jonathan, age 31, joined the National Guard at 17 and has served in Bosnia and Iraq. Welter's daughter Sally, age 29, was in the Guard for about seven months and now works as a teacher, and his other daughter, Linette, age 36, is a pharmaceutical representative. Welter has been married to his wife Linda for 41 years this October, and they have six grandchildren.

Though Welter never suggested that his children serve their country, he said he must have inspired them in some way -- and by the smile on his face, it seems he couldn't be prouder.

"Jonathan has met a lot of people and a lot of friends," Welter said. "I've yet to talk to anyone in his career that does not like him or does not have something good to say about him. He's very dedicated ... he knows his responsibility."

Now that he's retired from the National Guard and Do It Best, Welter said he enjoys not having to "watch the clock." He still enjoys working on the family farms and tinkering with old tractors.

"It seems like I stay pretty busy," he said. "A lot of times people say how the time passes so slowly, but I have not had that problem."

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