You all remember the movie. Jimmy Stewart plays George Bailey, who after his father’s untimely death is left to keep the Bailey Building and Loan afloat in the face of efforts by “the meanest man in town,” Mr. Potter, to shut down his lone competitor.
In one scene, rain pelts Bedford Falls on Bailey’s wedding day. As Bailey and his new bride Mary (played by Reed), are about to head off on their honeymoon, the cabbie notices a crowd at the Bailey Building & Loan.
A bank run had hit town, and fearful customers clamored for their cash. Bailey goes to his firm and Mary saves the day with the money intended for their honeymoon. By the end of the business day, the Building & Loan are left with two $1 bills, that George christens, “Mamma Dollar and Papa Dollar”, and he and his small staff dance through their branch with joy and relief.
While days exactly like the Bailey Building & Loan run rarely happen, bankers, like every business person, can face tough times.
Here is a true story for those dark days about my little league baseball coach, Tyre C. Weaver from LaFayette, Alabama.
But this is no baseball story.
In July, 1943, Tyre Weaver was a 23-year-old staff sergeant, manning the top turret gun of a B-17 bomber nicknamed the Ruthie II. On July 26, the aircraft was swarmed by a flock of German aircraft over Hanover, Germany.
A first barrage of gunfire killed the B-17’s pilot. A second sliced off the top of the plane. At the time, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes, written by a young reporter named Andy Rooney, recounted what happened next. The story was later retold by the Chattahoochee Heritage Project.
“Weaver fell through the (top turret) hatch, and slumped to the floor at the rear of the nose compartment” Ruthie’s navigator, Keith J. Koske of Milwaukee, Wisc., recounted. “Weaver’s arm had been blown off at the shoulder and he was a mess of blood. I tried to inject morphine, but the needle was bent and I couldn’t get it in.”
Four hours from its home base in England. Weaver would not survive without medical attention soon, Koske took the engineer’s parachute, secured it on Weaver and placed the ripcord in Weaver’s hand and tossed him out of the B-17 over Saxony, with a prayer that the critically-wounded Weaver would get decent medical care.
It was Weaver’s only hope for survival.
Weaver was taken prisoner by German troops almost as soon as he hit the ground. A German surgeon treated Weaver, who would spend more than a year as a POW before returning home to Chambers County, Alabama. Weaver would become a war hero far beyond the county line.
Andy Rooney, who would tell Tyre Weaver’s story first in Stars and Stripes on Aug. 19, 1943, and recount it again and again in essays and as a commentator for “60 Minutes”, remembered Weaver’s comrades talking about Weaver’s desire to return to Alabama, so that he could tinker with ’33 Ford jalopy that rested on blocks in the family driveway in LaFayette.
Rooney’s admiration for Weaver and his fellow crewmen was recounted in Timothy Gay’s wonderful story for the Chattahoochee Heritage project. Rooney crafted these words before knowing Weaver’s fate.
“The Eighth Air Force is a story of men necessarily buried under the damnably cold heap of statistics the Allies are trying to pile higher than Axis statistics. When the pile is higher, the airmen can go home, and if that American kid was saved by a German doctor, maybe he can get a license to drive his ’33 Ford with one arm.”
Coach Weaver was saved and would get that license, fix the battered ’33 Ford, and motor around Chambers County. Beyond that, his story would inspire the book, play and movie Stalag 17, with the film version starring William Holden.
The story of a one-armed gunner who survived a five-mile parachuted fall –also inspired by Tyre Weaver, found the silver screen in Twelve O’clock High starring Gregory Peck.
But no Hollywood film could do justice to Tyre Weaver’s story.
He married and he and his wife Frances had seven children who would give the Weavers 20 grandkids.
And he inspired us, a group of kids on a baseball diamond, though he never talked much, if at all, about his war experience. I never knew his story until after he died. That’s the way the vets of his generation, and seemingly every generation are. They had a job to do and did it.
But Tyre Weaver inspired us by the things he could do with one arm, laying down beautiful bunts at practice, popping perfectly placed fly balls and smacking crisp, well-placed grounders at practice, tossing the ball up and swinging the bat with his one good arm. He did more with one arm than most men can do with two.
He learned to pilot a plane, and was elected Tax Collector in Chambers County, with political races best known by him showering the electorate with campaign leaflets from his two-seater aircraft.
With quiet courage, he was teaching even bigger lessons – about facing and dealing with adversity and loss, about celebrating life, not sinking in self-pity, about adjusting and adapting in hard times.
An entire wall at the United States Air Force Enlisted Heritage Hall is dedicated to Tyre Weaver and his story. Life magazine tracked Weaver to LaFayette, and ran a photo of the war hero with a 10,0000-watt grin. Weaver passed away in 1993.
His words tell a story far better than I about how he survived.
“For you see, no matter what a man believes before the mission starts, after it’s over he knows he’s been in God’s hands.”
Think about Coach Weaver and his story the next time you think you’re having a bad day.
I hope you will Share this story with others.
Here’s another wonderful story from Bedford Falls: