Traded To The Enemy: A War Story Of Inspiration with Wes Wesselhoeft

It’s one thing to serve your country; it’s another to continue to do so even after your country held you and your family captive. That is the story of retired Lieutenant Colonel, Wes Wesselhoeft who authored his ordeal in his book, Wesselhoeft: Traded to the Enemy. At six years old, Wes was taken to an internment camp and was later on traded with the Nazis for Americans during World War II. Years later, at 21 years old, Wes came back to the United States and signed up in the Air Force for four years. Take inspiration from Wes’ story as he takes us across wars Рfrom Japan to Vietnam Рthat left him legally blind. Amidst all this, Wes has no bitterness towards America, and he shares why in this story of an American citizen.

TTL 596 | Traded To The Enemy


Lieutenant Colonel retired from the US Air¬†Force,¬†Wes¬†Wesselhoeft is here to talk about his book.¬†He’s the author of¬†Wesselhoeft: Traded to the Enemy.¬†He’s got¬†an¬†interesting, sad, inspiring and all kinds of¬†different adjectives¬†story of an American citizen, which he was at six years old, taken to an internment camp later traded for Americans with Nazis and then later served in the US Air Force.¬†He became a lieutenant colonel and was eventually blinded by Agent Orange. He’s got quite a story to tell and it’s going to be fascinating.¬†¬†

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Traded To The Enemy: A War Story Of Inspiration with Wes Wesselhoeft

I am here with Adolf¬†Wes¬†Wesselhoeft and his wife,¬†Shirley.¬†Wes¬†was born an¬†American¬†citizen in Chicago, Illinois. At the age of six,¬†along with his family who was taken under armed guard by train to an¬†internment camp in Texas. That was¬†the beginning of his incredible journey.¬†I’m excited to have you here,¬†Wes.¬†Thank you for being here, Shirley.¬†

We’re happy to be here.¬†¬†

Thank you for having us. 

You’re welcome. Your story is an amazing story.¬†I know you’ve written a book and I want to go through the story. If you wouldn’t mind,¬†Wes,¬†taking us through your pretty normal beginning of your life that changed quite dramatically when you turned¬†six. Can you give a background of where you were born and how long you¬†were¬†in Chicago¬†before you went to Texas? That whole story would be great.¬†

I was born in Chicago in September 1936¬†by¬†German parents. They¬†hadn’t become citizens yet and they managed¬†a rental apartment house in Chicago, on Kenmore Avenue, which was very close to the lake. That’s where we spend a lot of time when we had time to go to the beach or spend time in the park.¬†I went to school. It¬†was not very far, just a block or two away and stayed there¬†until¬†first grade. We had in¬†every morning we lined up. We stood up and pledged our¬†allegiance, which was very nice and then¬†into different crafts and stuff. I was very¬†early interested in airplanes. As a matter of fact, when I finished the first grade,¬†I painted in the aircraft¬†next to my name and I still have that little yearbook that¬†from¬†the first grade there.¬†¬†

I noticed my dad was gone at times and at the time I didn’t know what was going on.¬†One time when he was gone, some people came. Later on,¬†I found out that was the FBI and they ransacked our apartment, pulled¬†out¬†the drawers and¬†dumped everything on the floor and looking for something.¬†I was¬†only six years old¬†at that time.¬†I¬†didn’t know what was going on¬†but they didn’t¬†find anything. They¬†left and soon after that, my dad came back. In the meantime, I found later on that he had been spending time at a prisoner‚Äôs¬†war camp¬†up in Wisconsin.¬†¬†

When he¬†was¬†back, he came with overseas suitcases,¬†the big ones¬†and¬†trunks. We started gathering all¬†our stuff together. We wanted to keep the clothes and stuff like that. There wasn’t very long after that that they came¬†at night. The arm guard¬†took us out,¬†got¬†us on the train¬†to Crystal City in Texas, which was out¬†basically in the desert of Texas. It was¬†about¬†100¬†miles¬†southwest of¬†San Antonio. Those were¬†tumbleweeds¬†and snakes¬†in that area but¬†they¬†built an internment camp there.¬†Before that,¬†it¬†had been¬†the spinach capital of the world and had a statue there of¬†Popeye the Sailor Man.¬†I¬†am¬†familiar with Popeye the Sailor Man before¬†because¬†while we were in Chicago, we used to buy our groceries there¬†at¬†a grocery store. They always had a handout there with the little magazine¬†of Popeye the Sailor Man. When I saw him again, I had somebody that I was familiar with but otherwise,¬†the camp was something new to me.¬†¬†

When they¬†came, we got off the train. They put us on trucks¬†and took us into the camp. The first thing I noticed were¬†the guard towers. There were¬†armed guards everywhere,¬†along the side,¬†the towers and with the armed¬†policeman or¬†some guards¬†up there and then also other vehicles around. They took us in this camp and my dad owned the place¬†there, the¬†cabin that we would stay in. The¬†camp was nice. We had a single house¬†that we stayed. It wasn’t very big,¬†and although I’d say maybe¬†15×20¬†or something like that where we had¬†our abode for a year. Every morning,¬†they brought¬†ice and¬†milk, and then¬†we ate. The funny thing is¬†we had probably¬†eating¬†places and I don’t remember them.¬†I remember the bathhouse,¬†the toilets¬†which are¬†also public and stuff. One thing I remember is the sound of the woodshop. They weren’t very far away¬†from where we stayed¬†and they used to make us toys¬†and stuff like that.¬†

Wes,¬†I wanted to ask you before we go more into the story because your dad was gone, that he¬†was at¬†the¬†prisoners of war camp,¬†was he in prison there or was he visiting someone else and was there suspicion that maybe he had Nazi connections? I’m curious what all this, what’s¬†for¬†them doing this to you¬†guys?¬†

Roosevelt needed people that he wanted to trade with¬†Hitler for Americans that were trapped¬†in Germany. Since my parents had not become American citizens yet, they¬†were declared enemy aliens and I was listed as a volunteer for some reason. I wanted to stay with my¬†parents.¬†We went into¬†this camp¬†until¬†they had a chance to what they’re going to do next.¬†

We think of those camps, we heard more about Japanese in the camps, but there were also Germans, Italians. Am I right that there were not just Japanese? 

Yes, correct. The Germans were interned first, then the Japanese also came and the Italians. We made friends with some of the Japanese there but otherwise, they were in separate parts of the camp. They had separate schooling in a way but for me, I was supposed to learn German. Our first grade in Chicago and now I spend a year trying to learn German because in Chicago, my parents never spoke German to me. We spoke English. 

You were all together and how long were you in this internment camp before getting on the boat to go back? 

I finished one year of German instruction first grade. 

They decided to take you back to Germany or did you go to Lisbon first?  

They picked us up again at night, took us to New York and then put us on a Swedish ship. They grouped us on which had been used already for trading people between countries diplomatically. It was an exchange ship. It was always recognized that way and was lit up. They traveled always with all the lights on and everything. It was recognized as a Swedish neutral ship.  

They took you back. I’m not an expert in this area, but when they exchange you for other prisoners,¬†is¬†that typical?¬†If they don’t think that you’re involved with the Nazis and that type of thing, was that¬†happening at that time?¬†

It was a solution to getting Americans that were based in Germany.  

Even prisoners or diplomats and other people that were trapped, let’s say in this case in Germany under Hitler and I was also one of the numbers. 

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You were back there for what four years? What happened? How long were you there? What was your life like once they sent you overseas? 

On¬†the grip zone, they took us to Lisbon in Portugal and that’s where the trade was made between¬†the two countries. They put us back on the train.¬†They let¬†us buy winter clothes because this was¬†February.¬†That was not Texas.¬†They got some nice winter clothes,¬†back on the train¬†through France and into Germany.¬†¬†

What were¬†your parents feeling throughout this? Were they upset?¬†Were they handling this well¬†or¬†they freaked out?¬†I’m¬†curious what the tone was in your family, you‚Äôre the¬†only child?¬†

That’s correct. I was¬†the¬†only¬†child, but that was¬†quiet. The closer we got to Germany,¬†the whole train or the other people that were with us,¬†the conversation got less¬†quiet. Everybody was anticipating what would happen¬†once we¬†get¬†into¬†Germany.¬†I couldn’t see very much anyway. The youngster that I was¬†looking out the window, I¬†couldn‚Äôt¬†see that much.¬†¬†

Your parents never talked to you about what was going on. Have they not mentioned any war?  

No. The first time I realized that we were at war when I was on the grip zone going across the Atlantic. I know the ships were circling us. I found out this is where American destroyers circled us and kept us safe for the passage across to Europe. 

Was there ever a question of your religion? Do you mind if I ask what your religion was? 


I don’t know what¬†you mean.¬†

The Jewish situation, are¬†you of Jewish descendants or a Christian? I’m¬†curious, was there any question?¬†

That question never came up.¬†We were Christian¬†and I¬†didn’t know¬†of any distinction.¬†¬†

You were treated well. 

They were simply of German descent and our understanding is of all those people that were interned of any of the nationalities, they never found that any of them did anything subversive or anti-American. They were not interned because of that and never did as far as any records that we found. 

What was the¬†reason for sending them back?¬†Did they justify that it was¬†because you weren’t American citizens?¬†

The only way we know these things is to look in the archives¬†and it’s not explained but they were traded. We needed to get those things out.¬†Wes¬†and I certainly agree with that. Those Americans needed to come home. Maybe there might’ve been a better method.¬†

That had to be very upsetting for a young child and not know what’s going on. What¬†kind of facility¬†did¬†you¬†live in once you were back in Germany?¬†

We¬†went back to Hamburg. That’s where¬†the family was. The Wesselhoeft¬†is a seafaring family and Hamburg is¬†a seafaring¬†town.¬†My¬†grandfather had retired¬†in the suburb of Hamburg. My¬†dad‚Äôs¬†father¬†had a retirement home in the suburbs. That’s where we went and we stayed with them. Every day¬†and¬†every night, that’s when the Air Force was bombing Hamburg. Day time, it was¬†the¬†Americans and night,¬†it was¬†the British.¬†It was a¬†different setting¬†that I came into.¬†

I can imagine, it had to be terrifying. 

At first, we went into the bunkers but we found out the people got trapped in the bunkers with the debris and stuff. We learn by hearing this when the sirens went off. It gave us much time that we knew when the bombers would arrive. We used that time to get out of the way of them because they never changed their approach coming up the Elbe River. We had the time to get out of the way. My mother had all the clothes already all laid out for me. I wore every piece that I could put on, every piece of clothing I had and got out of the way. We waited when the bombing was over and then we went back.  

TTL 596 | Traded To The Enemy
Traded To The Enemy: There’s nowhere else in the world that equals what the US has and what it developed.


It was a time of deprivation I imagine that. Did you have food and necessities? What was it like at that time? 

We had no school and the thing is we were deprived of a lot of things during that time because Hitler had put everything to the war. All the shelves pretty much became empty, there was nothing to buy. We developed a black-market type of existence. We had a sailboat, and since we have a seafaring, we know we could try other ways. We traded and bartered in everything. It was the end of the war, we had a little garden. We added some beans and stuff and the same canned goods we made. We traded them and whatever else we had that we could trade for. It was a bartering life existence until the end of the war. 

When the war ended,¬†did you decide you wanted to go back to the United States at that point? What was your thought process of why you’d want to¬†go back to the United States if so?¬†

No,¬†that’s quite¬†ways away.¬†

What happened next then? 

When¬†the war ended and¬†the occupation forces took over, we were in the British zone since¬†Germany was divided up then the¬†between¬†the Americans, the French¬†and the Russians.¬†They¬†shut¬†down all transportation¬†and¬†commerce.¬†It¬†became a black market¬†of existence and a lot of people die¬†from starvation.¬†We had¬†a little garden and we also knew how to barter with everything.¬†I had a bicycle that I had in Chicago. It followed me to Crystal City. It even followed me from there with¬†I think four or five¬†different government leadings into Germany but I never¬†got¬†to use it because it was too valuable.¬†It was¬†traded for¬†something,¬†I don’t know for what. Anything that was available was traded,¬†the¬†toys that I had too,¬†book,¬†and¬†anything that was valuable.¬†¬†

I had a little steam set up,¬†a little¬†toy thing that was traded.¬†I had also a book that showed the¬†Middle¬†Ages was¬†a custom¬†in Germany¬†that whenever you bought a certain item to keep you as a customer, they give you a little picture. You could paste this picture in this book with the story. This story that I liked, this particular book¬†because¬†it showed the¬†Middle¬†Ages of how¬†people lived back then but that was also traded. Everything that was of any value¬†was traded to survive.¬†One thing that helped me though and I don’t¬†know exactly how it works, after the war ended, I got a care package.¬†¬†

My dad said that came from the consulate¬†but I don’t know whether¬†there¬†was a consulate anywhere near.¬†Somehow, every month I got a care package¬†and¬†that was a major item in the survival¬†and also in the trading process. There was¬†naturally coffee in there because the only way people made coffee is tried to roast¬†acorns¬†and who knows what¬†that makes you addicted to¬†coffee. You can‚Äôt throw the¬†coffee,¬†it was a big item. The item I liked, I got to grind the coffee. I liked the smell of it. I’d never got used to drinking it. I still don’t drink coffee.¬†¬†

As you lived throughout all this situation, what led you to coming back to the United States? When did you come back? 

After everything and things were pretty much dire, my parents decided to move to the border of Switzerland in Konstanz. We were in the Swiss border town and that had not been bombed. It was a totally different environment. I finished school there and I had the memories. I stayed in touch with the consulate there. It took two days on the bicycle to ride through the black forest and two days to come back. I kept in contact with him and my memories I had of America had stayed with me. It was such a different society, a different country, it was not America. As a matter of fact, while I was in Crystal City, I kept up with the comic strips. That was my main occupation. I had the memory of America, the constitution and all that still in me.  

Even though I was in¬†Konstanz, I¬†went to school there, which is a requirement in Germany, if you want to go to the university. You can¬†go to the regular school but at age ten,¬†you have to make a¬†decision whether you want to¬†become¬†professional and then you can go to the university.¬†I finished that school in¬†Konstanz.¬†When I finished that, my mother when she was in Hamburg had cancer.¬†Supposedly it had been healed, but in a time in¬†Konstanz¬†it reoccurred. She died in 57 and that’s also¬†when I finished school. When I stayed working with the¬†consulate, he said,¬†‚ÄúYou¬†can come back to America.¬†You’re a citizen.‚Ä̬†I had to be careful in Germany¬†I was told anyways with¬†what political involvement I had so forth. The Americans¬†wanted to know that¬†so I kept a clean¬†slate¬†so to say.¬†¬†

Were you able to speak English with anyone at all or were you mostly speaking German?  

Yeah, the school was using English language. Besides German, I studied English but it was Shakespearian English. Now that I was in the French zone, I also had to learn French. I had English and French in school, besides the regular German and stuff. 

You had¬†these great memories of the US¬†even though they shipped you away. I’m curious, did you have¬†any¬†animosity because of that or no?¬†

No. Most of the times, I went to all the American movies. The friend of mine we used to take in John Wayne and a bunch of others in the Western. Any of the Western movies, we went to see those. It kept a lot of memories alive in me from America. 

How old were you when you decided to come back to the United States? 

I was 21, normally you graduated at eighteen, but since I had a oneyear first grade in Chicago and one year in Crystal City first grade, when I came back to Germany, that German was no good. It took me three years to pass first grade. I was 21 back at that time but that time I had to work for a while to earn the money to come back.  

What happened to your father during this time? I wasn’t clear on that.¬†

He was working. 

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You decided to come back when you’re 21 and you get back to the United States, I imagine by ship, did you fly back?¬†

I¬†got with the Dutch ship this time,¬†Ryndam. I¬†worked¬†up the money,¬†earned¬†the money and¬†got on with¬†Ryndam¬†coming back to New York.¬†First thing I noticed when we were on the bus coming, by¬†there was a recruiting station at Times Square. I kept that in mind.¬†The consulate said¬†I should probably check with the¬†recruiting station.¬†I kept that in mind the first night. I had still $20 left, one night in the hotel that they arranged for me and the next morning I went over to the Times Square recruiting station. I¬†had my suitcase and my guitar¬†that’s about all I carried.¬†

You had $20 to your name? That was it? 

Not anymore.  

You spent it on your hotel and what that was? 

I think it was about $10 for the hotel¬†and I still had $10,¬†so I got¬†breakfast,¬†a¬†hot dog¬†from the vendors.¬†I had a little bit less than $10 but¬†I went into the recruiting station and they had all the guys,¬†the recruiters were in their finest dress. They had the Marines¬†there, the Navy, the Army and the Air Force. The Air Force guy was the guy¬†sitting¬†way¬†in the back and that’s who I wanted to see. The Marines‚Äô guy said, ‚ÄúThe Air Force is not hiring right now, but the Army is recruiting.‚Ä̬†They wouldn’t let me¬†talk to the Air Force guy so¬†I had to talk to the Army¬†guy. He¬†said,¬†‚ÄúI‚Äôve¬†got a great deal for you. We‚Äôve¬†got a new missile system that we’re commissioning. We’ll train you in that and we’ll¬†send you back to Germany.‚ÄĚ That’s the last thing I wanted¬†to hear.¬†

You did not have to go to this recruitment. You could have tried to live on your $10 and gone on your way because you had that option. 

It’s February in New York. 

You had no plan¬†but,¬†‚ÄúWhat¬†are we¬†going to¬†do?‚Ä̬†

It was cold and windy. 

You were left with no options. 

I wanted to¬†fly. I wanted to talk to the Air Force¬†guy¬†but the only thing I could do is sign up with that¬†Army¬†guy. That was¬†the recruiting station there but then I had to go the next day to the Whitehall main recruiting station to get¬†all signed up and whatnot.¬†They gave me a token for¬†the subway to get there.¬†I asked the people¬†where I had to get off the train and nobody could tell me where my¬†Whitehall Street was. I got finally nervous enough that I got off the train from the subway and walked up.¬†The Lord must have been with me because¬†when¬†I got up from the subway and looked at¬†the roadway, it said Whitehall Street. I couldn’t believe it.¬†

I walked¬†a block over¬†and there was the¬†main recruiting station.¬†I walked in there and there were¬†people all over the place. I don’t know where¬†all¬†these recruits came from but they had all lines lined¬†up for every service. I looked around there and¬†I say,¬†‚ÄúI think I wanted to be in the Air Force.‚Ä̬†I lined up¬†in the Air Force¬†line¬†and when I got up to the¬†front, they told me, ‚ÄúYou’re in the wrong line. The Army line is over there.‚ÄĚ He looked at my paperwork because¬†I had signed up for the Army, I wouldn’t move.¬†I¬†was holding¬†up¬†the line, I¬†wasn’t going¬†to¬†go anywhere. He finally¬†took¬†my paperwork aside and pulled out some mails out of one of the drawers and told me to sign it and I did.¬†He¬†transferred my paperwork. At the time,¬†I didn’t know it¬†but¬†I had signed up for four years in the Air¬†Force versus two years with the Army.¬†

They didn’t tell you.¬†¬†

I did not know that at the time but I was happy that I was signed up for the Air Force and finished the rest of the processing in there. 

This was 1958 that this was all happening around that time. 

February 1958. On the train were a bunch of other guys going to Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, which is 100 miles from Crystal City.  

They shipped you off from Texas and you went back to Germany. 

No, that was what the Army wanted to do with me. 

TTL 596 | Traded To The Enemy
Traded To The Enemy: The Lord must have been with me because I got up from the subway and looked at the roadway where it said Whitehall Street.


Where did you go from this point after Texas? 

In Texas, they didn’t know what to do with me.¬†I got into casual status at the end. They said the next school that opens, you’re going to¬†be in that whatever it is. What happened is¬†Kodak had¬†a photography school in Denver¬†where¬†the¬†Air¬†Force Academy¬†used to be and says, ‚ÄúYou’re going to be a photographer,‚ÄĚ and that’s what they did. They shipped me to¬†Denver Lowry Air Force Base to become a photographer.¬†I wanted to go to Florida. I asked¬†them if¬†they had a place that was warm and whatnot. When¬†I¬†got my orders, I found out I’m going to Japan.¬†I spent two¬†years in Japan in photography, recon tech squadrons.¬†They¬†had the¬†101s flying over to¬†China and¬†stuff.¬†They had that painted on their mountains.¬†

That had to be challenging to go back and be away in another country, another language with different things like that. How long were you in the service and when did you get to the point where you had issues? I know that you had exposure to Agent Orange that has left you legally blind. I would like to hear how that happened. 

I was two years in Japan and¬†I learned to fly. I joined¬†an¬†aeroclub there.¬†I got to fly¬†small aircrafts¬†and stuff like that. I figured I was on the right way. I applied for a pilot training and they¬†said,¬†‚ÄúNo, we don’t need pilots. We¬†need¬†navigators.‚ÄĚ They sent me back to Texas.¬†I went to¬†Harlingen¬†Air Force Base this¬†time and learned¬†to be a navigator.¬†I said, ‚ÄúNow I¬†got¬†to¬†be¬†in the¬†pilot training.‚Ä̬†They said, ‚ÄúNo, we need electronic warfare people.‚Ä̬†They sent¬†me to California to become an electronic warfare officer.¬†

By this time, he was an officer. 

As the navigator, I became an officer. When I was in electronic warfare, I did go to that school in California. They gave me a choice of assignments.  

He was the Distinguished Graduate. 

I love the proud wife. I’m curious when you met Shirley and all this.¬†

I met her then in Texas too when I¬†was in navigation¬†training because I needed a ride to church. I had a motorcycle there¬†that I had bought in Japan.¬†I got it back to the US. I shipped it by US¬†post office. They said I could send the motorcycle. I could send any¬†package as long as it was not more than 50 pounds.¬†I took the motorcycle apart¬†in¬†pieces and sent¬†it all over less than 50 pounds¬†and had it put it back together. I signed in on that motorcycle in Texas for training.¬†They wouldn‚Äôt¬†let me ride the bike naturally. While I was in¬†Harlingen,¬†I needed a ride to church. I couldn’t go on a motorcycle.¬†Shirley and her husband were there and they gave me a ride¬†to church.¬†

What year is this that all this occurred? 

This was 1962. 

That’s how you met and you ended up¬†a Lieutenant Colonel. How¬†long did that take to become a Lieutenant Colonel?¬†You were in for 22 years.¬†¬†

It was in 1970s. I was at San Antonio back now with C-124s and we were flying nuclear parts all over the world that we had. I got a tour in Southeast Asia, in Thailand, flying an EC-121s which was the McNamara fence. It was a great idea. The Navy planted all these sensors along the Ho Chi Minh trail, so we knew how they were moving their stuff. We had all the intelligence people on board on this plane knew how to interpret all the equipment, all the sensors we had planted. That was a great way. General Westmoreland was in charge with that and that was 1968 on the Tet Offensive for that year. They were flying that way and I think we were on the way to winning. 

What year did you go to Vietnam? You served twice in Vietnam. 

He was in station. It was fine in Vietnam, not during the Tet Offensive. 

I was all the year of 1968. I also went back there in 1972 with the B-52s, the D-Models, which I like.  

What year did you get exposed to Agent Orange? 

That was¬†in¬†1968¬†because the people in Washington, all of us¬†didn’t like¬†the¬†way things were going because we were fighting a¬†battle and fighting it in the war zone. They didn’t have much influence¬†of the¬†decision making from Washington. They had us download all the intelligence on the computer system and send it to Washington and they made the decisions. If you have a target, you can’t attack it¬†until¬†you got¬†your approval from Washington and that could be a day or two later. That’s no longer there, things are moving. They came up with Agent Orange out of Washington to¬†de-foliage¬†the Ho Chi Minh¬†trails.¬†When they did that, they exposed¬†all our sensors because they were artificial sensors. They looked like trees and¬†plants. That’s some way in that process I got exposed.¬†

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Were you on the ground or flying? Is that how you got exposed? 

I had an additional duty of escorting US troops like Bob Hope. I was in the jungle, in the outposts and in the places along the Ho Chi Minh trails and stuff. I think somewhere along that way, I picked that stuff up. 

Were your eyes immediately affected or did this take a while to become legally blind? 

No, it took time.¬†I had¬†two bouts¬†with Non-Hodgkin‚Äôs¬†Lymphoma. I survived¬†them both¬†but my eyes didn’t¬†follow. They¬†tried surgery on one eye and that didn’t¬†work, so I lost it. The other eye, they put a¬†shunt on¬†my¬†brain to take the pressure off.¬†I¬†had a high spinal pressure.¬†I can still see a little bit out of my left eye¬†but¬†it’s very little.¬†I can¬†see nothing out of my right eye.¬†

My father was born legally blind. He had only one eye, he could see out of it. If you get the newspaper close enough to his face, he could actually read it. Can you read? 


Same thing¬†that he had. That‚Äôs amazingly¬†inspirational that you were able to come through all¬†this story. What you’ve gone through is horrifying and yet,¬†you came back. You served¬†for the¬†US¬†and you were basically poisoned by the US.¬†I’m curious, are you bitter at all from all this?¬†

No, because America is still America. It has a constitution like no other country. There’s nowhere else in the world that equals what the US has and what it developed with the¬†constitution¬†and¬†with the way America is America, there’s no country like it¬†unless we destroy it ourselves.¬†

I think what you’ve done is amazing.¬†I want to get Shirley’s last¬†input a little bit here because I know she’s been¬†by your side. Shirley, how long have you been married now and how did his story¬†impact you?¬†

I’m glad you asked that because he left it¬†in question of how we got together. I was¬†married.¬†¬†

I figured that something happened there that you ended up. 

We had lost touch. We were family friends and he got married when he left¬†Harlingen.¬†We were¬†stationed¬†at the same base in California for them to go through training. He went through training and¬†they were¬†moving around. We lost touch with one another,¬†the families. Years later after everyone had retired, a church that we had both gone to at different times, a church that you go to Japan, he had gone¬†in¬†when you went, that was his first assignment was to go to Japan. It was in the late 1950s and we’re gone in the early¬†1960s to Japan.¬†We attended the¬†same¬†church just at different times¬†and began¬†having reunions.¬†¬†

Through those reunions,¬†many¬†years later we got back in touch with one another and both of¬†us were single and things went from¬†there. We’ve been married a little over seventeen years. Writing the book with him¬†was a fantastic experience because¬†he had told me he was interned. He¬†told¬†me¬†the highlights of¬†that story, but we’d never gone into the details¬†that¬†we did in the book.¬†It was¬†a¬†neat experience to hear all those details about what he did, how he¬†survived and what his life was like. There were a lot of things I never thought to ask him. I¬†asked a lot¬†writing the book.¬†

TTL 596 | Traded To The Enemy
Wesselhoeft: Traded To The Enemy

The book¬†is named¬†Wesselhoeft: Traded to the Enemy.¬†I think it’s an¬†amazing¬†story and I‘m¬†glad you¬†were able to find each other and work on that together.¬†Wes, I¬†wanted to¬†know¬†are¬†there any last thoughts you have of your experience and anything you’d like to share with everybody?¬†

What we’re trying to accomplish here is to get recognition that Germans¬†were also interned¬†besides the Japanese and the Italians, which got presidential recognition¬†for the others.¬†For some reason,¬†the Germans have never been identified as being interned. Why? I don’t know¬†but that would be nice if we could set the history straight of what actually happened.¬†¬†

You don’t hear much about the Italians either as you hear mostly about the Japanese, don’t you think?¬†

Yes, that’s correct.¬†¬†

I wonder why.  

I don’t know. President Reagan¬†had recognized the¬†Japanese¬†and even¬†gave them some compensation. I’m not asking for any¬†compensation,¬†I want history set straight of what happened.¬†¬†

I’m glad that you did¬†share this with me because I was not aware¬†of my family. My mother’s¬†parents came off the boat from Italy. I had not heard about Italians¬†that¬†were part of this as well.¬†This is very interesting to me.¬†Thank you so much¬†for being on the show. Is there a website you’d like to share? We mentioned the name of the book. Is there some other thing? Should they find that through Amazon or some other place? Can you share any links you’d like to?¬†

The book is on Amazon, can be ordered on¬†¬†and we have a Facebook page, the same name as the book,¬†Wesselhoeft: Traded to the Enemy. We don’t have a web page. We have a Facebook page and we post things on there as we¬†do things. We¬†post them¬†on there and keep people up¬†to date with what we’re doing since we’ve read the book on that and anybody who reads the book, we would love to hear from them. I’d be happy to give you the email address.¬†It’s¬† We love to hear from people that have read the book. Love to hear that.¬†

I think it’s an amazing book and I’m grateful that you shared your story on the show. Thank you so much for being on.¬†

Thank you for having us with.¬†It’s been a pleasure.¬†

You’re welcome.¬†¬†

I’d¬†like to thank Wes¬†and Shirley for being my guests. We get so many interesting guests on this show. A lot of true stories, which I actually find the true stories uniquely gripping. I had¬†Molly¬†from Molly’s Game on the show for example, and¬†Eric¬†from¬†the movie,¬†Breach and Molly’s Game was a great movie. A¬†couple of these stories that come from the headlines and the movies are almost so hard to believe that these things actually happen and¬†this¬†episode is definitely one of those. If you’ve missed some of those stories, they’re interesting from the past. You can go to my blog at¬†¬†and search¬†Breach or O’Neill or any of the names that are part of¬†that episode or search by Molly and I’m sure that Molly’s story from Molly’s Game will show up.

Those movies associated with them are compelling to find out what goes on behind the scenes.¬†It’s great that¬†Shirley and¬†Wes¬†were able to dig down into the story that Wes experienced and share that with everybody because he has a unique story. It’s amazing that he kept¬†such an optimistic viewpoint and I find that fascinating in terms of¬†my work with perception. How we look at¬†not just fear but¬†defeat or¬†problems that some people look at as challenges and other people look at them as well¬†that’s¬†the way the game‚Äôs played. If we can look at things from other people’s perspectives, that’s a big part of developing empathy. I admire people like Wes who are able to look at the glass half full so to speak. If anybody could be¬†bitter¬†from what they’ve gone through,¬†he has gone through a serious ordeal and I admire his positive outlook with everything.

I think perception¬†is such a fascinating topic. If you look at what we¬†do in our mind of what we use¬†our assumptions, our voice in our head¬†to talk us out of sometimes because of¬†our experiences in life. A¬†lot of that is what I¬†dealt with when I studied the Curiosity Code Index.¬†I found out that fear and environment are two of the big factors that impact how curious we are¬†and when we’re curious, we‚Äôre more likely to be driven, motivated, engaged and¬†all the things we want to be at work. I hope that if you’re interested in the area of developing¬†your perceptive abilities and as well as your ability to overcome things that keep you from being curious, you can get information on my website about that.¬†We’re¬†certifying people to give the Curiosity Code Index.

If you go through the training to become certified, you’d get five hours of¬†SHRM Certification Credit and everything’s on¬†¬†You can¬†also find it on my main website at¬†¬†It’s all listed at the top, all the¬†different parts of the site.¬†I hope you take some time¬†to check out that information. I hope you take some time¬†to¬†check out our past shows. Definitely you could read them at the blog¬†because they‚Äôre¬†transcribed there, or you can listen to them there or on the radio tab, either place they play. We’re also on¬†iTunes,¬†iHeart, Roku, you name it. You can even have your¬†Echo device play, Dr. Diane Hamilton podcast, and it¬†will play it. I hope you enjoyed¬†this¬†episode and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take the Lead Radio.

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About Wes Wesselhoeft

TTL 596 | Traded To The EnemyAdolf ‚ÄúWes‚ÄĚ Wesselhoeft was born an American citizen in Chicago, Illinois. In March 1943, at the age of 6, he along with his family was taken under armed guard by train to Crystal City Family Internment Camp, TX. In February 1944, they were taken, again under armed guard by train, to New Jersey where they were put aboard the SS Gripsholm and sent to Lisbon to be exchanged for American‚Äôs war-wounded and others imprisoned by our enemy, Nazi Germany. He and his family went to live on the outskirts of Hamburg, which was under bombardment, day and night, by Allied forces.

Both during and especially after the war, Wes and his family suffered deprivation. The shelves were bare and they had to depend on bartering for family necessities. This situation did not change until the Marshall Plan was established in 1948. In 1958 the Consulate informed Wes that because he, an American citizen, could return to the US. He worked to earn the money for his passage and returned on February 3, 1958. He went straight to the famous Times Square recruiting station and enlisted in the Air Force. He served honorably for 22 years during which he became an officer, served in Vietnam twice and finally retired as a Lt. Colonel. Wes is legally blind as a result of Agent Orange exposure in Vietnam.


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