IN THE MILITARY, you're not supposed to volunteer for anything.
Tell that to John J. Wengert Sr. He was a military policeman in the Army in World War II when he saw his buddies going off to the front lines.
John volunteered to go with them. And ran smack into the Battle of the Bulge.
German forces sprang a surprise offensive in the Ardennes region of Belgium in December 1944, trapping American troops at Bastogne. Some 19,000 American soldiers were killed in the bloodiest engagement of the war.
You wouldn't have been able to get these details from John Wengert. Like many World War II veterans, he rarely talked about his experiences, allowing only the observation that "it was cold."
John Wengert, a partner in a sprinkler installation business and a man who was kept busy providing for eight children, died Saturday. He was 85 and was living in Franklinville, N.J., but had spent most of his life in South Philadelphia.
He was born in South Philadelphia to John Lewis Wengert and the former Margaret Mayers. He attended the Edgar Allan Poe School, but his formal education was limited by the necessity to help out at home.
After the war he became a sprinkler fitter, following in the footsteps of four generations of his family who took up that trade. He became a partner in Associated Sprinkler Co., retiring in 1983.
In 1951, he married the former Elizabeth Marie Crawford. She died in 2006.
"He was the most terrific guy you would ever want to meet," said his son-in-law Vince Angelus. "He really would give you the shirt off his back, and he never wanted a thank-you. He just wanted to do that for you."
When his beloved wife contracted Alzheimer's disease, he devoted all his time to her care.
"He loved his wife to no end," Vince Angelus said. "He was the cornerstone of the family. No matter where his children were living, they always came home to Dad for advice, help or just conversation."
His nickname was "Johnny Terrific," Angelus said.
"He liked nothing more than hanging out in South Philly with his goombahs," he said.
John was, in fact, the quintessential South Philly guy. He even marched with the Fancy Brigade in the Mummers Parade in his youth.
He is survived by three sons, John Wengert Jr., George Wengert and Ronald Wengert; five daughters, Peggy Hoffman, Patty D'Amico, Darlene Angelus, Marilyn Wengert and Bridget Dean; three sisters, Margaret, Bernadine and Geraldine; two brothers, William and Edward; 22 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.