In books, History Channel documentaries and websites about World War II, there are numerous photographs of Harry Weiland alone or posing with his comrades, smiling, impossibly young, his cap at a jaunty angle.
That smile belied the presence of constant danger: as a member of the elite Alamo Scouts, a special forces Army unit in the Pacific during World War II, Mr. Weiland performed dozens of secret raids and reconnaissance work deep behind Japanese lines in the jungles.
If, at the time, Mr. Weiland had known he would survive and live a long, quietly productive life in Murrysville after that, he might not have believed it.
But he did, and on Thursday Mr. Weiland died of heart failure at Independence Court Assisted Living, surrounded by his family. He was 89.
He didn’t talk much about his war experiences, at least not in a confessional way more common to later generations, his son Harry Weiland Jr. said.
“He was a man of few words,” Mr. Weiland said. “But he’d let you know how he felt about anything, one way or the other.”
The Alamo Scouts performed more than 100 missions for the U.S. Sixth Army, and not a single man in the 127-person unit was killed. But it wasn’t until 1988 that the Alamo Scouts were publicly honored for their bravery, and Mr. Weiland, who would spend the rest of his life in Murrysville, was one of them.
“I have boxes of medals,” said his son. “He had a silver star and four bronze stars and just a ton of stuff. You think the Green Berets and the Navy SEALs were good? The Alamo Scouts were the best of the best of the best.”
After the unit’s existence was publicly revealed, The History Channel produced a documentary on the unit, which aired in 2001, on its series “History’s Mysteries.” Also, there’s a website dedicated to the unit, alamoscouts.org, which declares that “The Alamo Scouts have the finest record of any elite unit of World War II and arguably one of the finest in the history of the United States Military.”
The commanding general of the U.S. Sixth Army, Lt. General Walter Krueger, created the all-volunteer intelligence unit, organizing it on New Guinea in November 1943. Because he spent much time in San Antonio, he’d come to admire the Alamo and its fighters — hence the name.
It was a volunteer unit, but not just anyone could be accepted. What they endured in the jungles of Luzon and New Guinea can only be imagined. Mr. Weiland says his father didn’t go into details.
“My dad was stoic. Very intelligent. I think serving in the unit had a profound effect on his personality, on all of their personalities. They were not going to get captured, and they didn’t.”
After the war, Mr. Weiland returned to Murrysville, and to his wife, Audrey — whom he had married in 1940 — built a house, raised two sons and worked as a carpenter, homebuilder, in commercial construction and, eventually, as a supervisor at P.J. Dick Corp.
Today, on Alamoscouts.org, a quick scroll down will reveal “Final Roll Call,” and there is an image of the young Mr. Weiland with the date “August 21, 2014” underneath.
And he is smiling.
Besides his wife and his son Harry of Point of Rocks, Md., he is survived by another son, Edward of Delmont; a brother, Edward of White Oak; a sister, Florence Fagan of Perryopolis; and four grandchildren. Friends may call today from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Hart Funeral Home, Murrysville. A Blessing Service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Monday at the funeral home, followed by interment with military honors in Twin Valley Memorial Park in Delmont.
Mackenzie Carpenter: mcarpenter@post- gazette.com, 412-253-1949.