May 3's Weather
HI: 71.5 LOW: 56.8
Full Forecast via Forecast.io
FLAT ROCK — Lt. Guy Wellman and the rest of the men in his infantry unit got what sounded like good news in March of 1945. An American division had captured the bridge at Remagen, leading to a huge opportunity for the Allied forces to cross the Rhine and drive into the heart of Germany in the final weeks of World War II.
After graduating from Indiana University, where he served in the ROTC, Wellman had been sent to Fort Benning, Ga., commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant and assigned to the 99th Infantry Division. Assigned to a job with military intelligence, Wellman played a memorable role in the surrender of a German Panzer division after a pivotal battle on the Rhine.
"They wanted us to go and set up jump-off places for our battalion," he said. "We started to go across (the bridge) and we jumped back. Bombs are coming in, from the Germans, so we got off of that and said, 'This is not what we gotta do.'
"We timed the shells and found out when they were firing them. So we went up on the bridge, and we're running across — it's a railroad type bridge and that's not a lot of fun. I fell down about halfway across and I took my poncho and my gas mask and threw it in the Rhine River."
Lt. Wellman and a captain were scouting a place to set up radios when they encountered German soldiers frantically motioning for them to come down to a village.
"We went down the hill, I don't know why we ever did, and these soldiers are giving us their guns and I'm putting them in my jacket for souvenirs, and along came a (German) motorcycle, sidecar, and he said to Capt. Fowler, 'Captain, I want you to get in the motorcycle, the general wants to see you at the headquarters.' They blindfolded him."
"This was a Panzer division, the general said, 'We want to surrender but we want to surrender only to the highest ranking officer,' so they said, 'Could you go back and get your highest ranking officer?'"
Wellman got the assignment.
"So they put me in the motorcycle and we started out and I said, 'Wait a minute, I'm going back, in front of my lines on a German motorcycle, they're liable to shoot me,' so I went back and I got a bedsheet, and I stood up in the motorcycle and I'm waving the bedsheet all the way down."
He was able to find the battalion colonel for the surrender, which turned out to be a grand scene.
"The (German) general was so good, he gave a speech to his troops and he surrendered his gun" to the colonel.
Lt. Wellman received the Bronze Star for his role in the surrender of a feared German Panzer division at a critical point in the war — without a single shot being fired.
Brush with history
For Guy Wellman, the war would soon be over, but his brush with history — especially sports history and baseball history in particular — was just beginning.
After the battle at the Rhine, a general put him in charge of coaching a basketball squad, which won the European Theatre Championship in 1945. A year later, Uncle Sam sent Guy Wellman home to the States.
"I stopped at Cincinnati Reds, at Crosley Field and signed with the Cincinnati Reds, baseball contract," he said. "They sent me that summer to Ogden, Utah, and I was supposed to join the Reds in the fall, after our season was over in Ogden.
"But I got a chance to have a job, coaching at Weber College. They offered me a football and basketball assistant's job and back in those days the money you got (playing minor league ball), you had to have a winter job, so I signed on with them and I wrote the Cincinnati Reds that I just couldn't make it, and I'm sure they were just as happy that I didn't have to come up.
"I stayed at Ogden a year and a half, coached at Weber College, and then I got drafted by the Dodgers. I was drafted by the Dodgers in 1948, went to spring training in Vero Beach that very first year they opened up (spring training) at Vero Beach, and I've really been with the Dodgers ever since."
A catcher, he played on Dodger farm clubs in Greenville, S.C. and Mobile, Ala., and made it to triple-A Saint Paul when the Army recalled him for the Korean War. He shook when he opened the papers that arrived in the mail, and was relieved at what he read.
"I was assigned three ROTC high schools in Gary, Ind., 12 miles from Valparaiso (his hometown). That's where I spent my Korean War. While I was there I was able to also be an assistant football coach at Valpo University. I got out of the service, and the Dodgers wanted me to come back to manage teams."
But he and his wife had a young daughter then, and he chose stability over travel. He put on his Dodger uniform and drove to a high school in Downers Grove, Ill., outside of Chicago. "I applied for their head basketball and head baseball job and got it — in my uniform. I stayed there for 11 years."
The Dodgers came calling once more, this time for the last time.
"The Dodgers wanted me to come back and work as a scout. Finally, we had a deal where the Dodgers would pay me as I worked my last year at high school, so I had two salaries." He then took on the scouting job fulltime, covering the Midwest from his home in Downers Grove. His recruits read like a who's who of Dodger greats from the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
"Frank Howard was one of my first signs, Steve Garvey was one of my signs. I've got 'em all up there that I signed and became associated with," he says, pointing to his own wall of fame, filled with autographed pictures that tell the story of his five decades in baseball. He was a pallbearer for the beloved Dodger manager Walter Alston. He coached under Alston at Dodgertown in Vero Beach, when the manager would make sure the coaches got the first tee time after practice at the club-owned golf course.
When he coached a semi-pro team in South Dakota, "there would be 5,000 people watching our games in Rapid City just to see Frank Howard take batting practice." He signed Howard with the Dodgers, for $102,000, "which in those days was big."
He followed Steve Garvey at Michigan State, and convinced the Dodgers to draft him.
"He was a third baseman in those days but he did not have a good arm. He was a great hitter so we converted him into a first baseman."
Fantasy come true
In 1983, a Dodger executive who ran the club's Vero Beach operation called him about a new idea — a fantasy camp where the organization would charge money for would-be ballplayers to spend a week at the complex under big league instructors, play games and have workouts.
"He said, 'Would you like to run it?' I said, "Yeah, I'll be happy to come down and be the boss of all those Dodger stars for a week.' So I said OK. And he said, 'Don't you want to know how much money you're going to make?' I said, 'You mean I get paid for this, too?'"
For a baseball man and lifelong Dodger who bled blue, the job was a perfect fit. One year the Dodgers held a Hall of Fame camp. Wellman shows pictures from it: "Duke Snider, Bert Campanella, Harmon Killebrew, Hoyt Wilhelm, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Warren Spahn, Billy Williams, they were all there, Frank Robinson."
He's in most of the photos, no. 11. So was he was always no. 11? He answers that the way he does a lot of questions, with a chuckle and by saying, "I got a little story there, too."
"I started out as 1, and then the Hall of Fame people said you couldn't wear a number that was Hall of Fame. Pee Wee Reese was no. 1. Pee Wee told me I could wear no. 1 but I wasn't going to, so I just added another 1."
He and his wife, Judy, retired to Flat Rock, where he enjoys golf several times a week at the Hendersonville Country Club. He shoots in the low 90s or better. He'll be 92 at the end of this month, celebrating a life as American as apple pie and baseball. From the bridge at Remagen to making a young baseball player's dream come true to leading a camp based on fantasy, he's led a happy life. No wonder he smiles a lot.
"I've had a good life," he says.