By land, air, coasts, and sea; we have our freedom today because the military defends our country and way of life.
Throughout the month of November, KX is sharing local veterans’ stories in our special series: Veterans Voices.
27 years a Naval officer, lawyer, Attorney General of North Dakota, District Judge, husband, father; we honor Robert Wefald.
Bob Wefald is the epitome of someone who successfully grabs life by the horns, and much of his success, roots back to lessons he learned at sea onboard a Naval vessel.
Robert .a.k.a, Bob Wefald, a native of Minot, and 100% Norwegian Lutheran – goes full force in life.
But at the beginning of his career, in 1964, the year he graduated UND – it didn’t start out that way.
“I was in the Honors Program. I didn’t want to go to school anymore. So I didn’t have a job. But then can I get a job or not? So I thought the thing I could do is get a commissioned position. And I looked around the shortest commissioned service was the army two years after OCS,” recounted Bob.
He drove to Grand Forks to see an army recruiter, but things didn’t go as planned.
“This big sergeant came up and said, Mr. Wefald, you flunked. flunked? I said, How can you flunk a draft physical, I was a little more dramatic than that. He said you have too much acne.”
Army recruiters did not want soldiers with acne because of all the dirt soldiers would encounter.
The next day after flunking the Army draft physical, Bob spotted a Navy recruiter in UND Student Union.
“I picked up a brochure and started looking at He said, Son, are you interested in the Navy? I can tell you in the history of the world, I never once thought of joining the Navy. And I said, Yeah, sure that sounds cool.”
Bob entered Officer Cadet School in July 1964, about two months before the Gulf of Tonkin incident happened on August 2nd.
“So I lucked out. Really, I love the Navy. And I did not get on the ground in Vietnam,” said Bob.
After completing Officer Cadet School and Navy Justice School, Bob went home to Minot for the Christmas break.
“My mother. Just give me a kiss goodbye and watch me walk out the door. My dad walked me to the car. And as opened the door, he put his heart arms around me and sobbed, just buckets of tears. I had never seen him cry at all, let alone sob buckets of tears. And I kept thinking to myself, What does he know that? I don’t know,” explained Bob.
Bob’s dad was worried about The Vietnam War, and rightly so. Bob would deploy to WestPac in March of 1966.
It was a busy life out onboard the U.S.S Lynde McCormick. Bob says he never got more than five and a half hours of sleep. He served as a gunnery assistant of two, five-inch 54 guns.
“Those guns when they’re cooking can shoot over 40 rounds a minute. Those are 80-pound projectiles being kicked out.”
His job was directly answering to the Weapons Officer.
“He controlled the missiles. He controlled the guns, He controlled the boats and mates. All the deck activities.”
At the end of his deployment, Bob’s dad picked him up in San Diego and they drove home.
“Two rainbows arched over I-94 as I’m driving into North Dakota, and I think that’s a great welcome sign for me.”
The good omen would prove true.
All while serving 24 years in the Navy Reserve, Bob would go on to lead a rich life and career of service.
Bob enrolled in Law School at the University of Michigan later that year.
He met his wife Susan while serving as the President of the University’s student Lutheran vestry.
They would marry in ’69.
After graduating in 1970, Bob and Susan moved to Bismarck and he got a job as a law clerk for the North Dakota Supreme Court.
A private practice attorney for nearly two decades, he entered politics and served as North Dakota Attorney General from 1981 to 1984.
Susan served as North Dakota’s Public Service Commissioner from 1993 until her retirement in 2009.
Bob says Susan’s good reputation helped him get elected District Court Judge in 1998 and 2004. It was his favorite job, and the Navy prepared him well for it.
“I could make decisions in the Navy, you have to make decisions. You can’t get around and have a committee get together like where you’re going to be colliding with a ship out there. Can’t say Well, I wonder how many people should watch it. You got to make a decision. You got to execute it,” explained Bob.
After retiring Bob continues doing one project after another.
He has been the Commander for the American Legion, Chairman of Open Your Heart Annual Christman Charity, authenticated the keel of USNS City of Bismarck, and was one of North Dakota’s three electors during the 2020 Presidential Election, just to name just a few.
“So, in a very tangible sense, your life is like a metaphor for working on a naval ship because you’re never not working?”
‘Well, I guess that’s true. Because you’re constantly moving when you are on a naval ship because there is constantly something to do all the time.”
“And you’ve carried on your life basically the same way.”
“I think that’s probably true. It’s a good analogy. I never thought of it that way, but yeah you’re right. You stay busy at sea, you stay busy at home. A busy ship is a happy ship. Happy man, happy life, happy wife.
You can learn more about Bob’s long and dynamic career and life in his two memoirs, ‘Moments,’ and ‘Moments Later.’