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‘I want him to make it to at least 100:’ Daily workouts benefit both father and son

A Quiet American Hero

By David Freeze
Curtis Winfred Wise was a 21 year old weaver at Cannon Mills in Kannapolis when the Japanese struck at Pearl Harbor. Co-workers in the mill called him “Wimp” and a lot of friends still do. Wise had signed up for the draft in 1940 after finishing Cannon High School, married Ethel and life was good. Soon, he was drafted and joined the US Army on June 10, 1942, doing basic training at Ft. Bragg.
Other training came next at Camp Rucker, Alabama, followed by brief stops in Tennessee, Arizona, California and Hawaii. Wise trained as a mortar squad leader, eventually serving in major battles of Angaur, Peleliu, the Fijis, New Caledonia, Guadalcanal, Leyte and as a member of the Army of Occupation at Honshu Island, Japan. Wise earned two Bronze Stars.
In charge of a mortar unit as a Staff Sergeant, Wise had several close calls. Wounded once by shrapnel, he removed the metal himself and wiped the blood off before returning to the fight. Not interested in a Purple Heart, Wise also didn’t want to leave his men. When asked to take over a platoon, Wise declined, saying, “I would rather stay here with my squad.”
At another time, a live mortar shell had not fired and the only way to remove it was to turn the barrel upside down and have someone catch the shell before it hit the ground. Wise caught the shell and was able to safely implode it.
Tasked with shooting star flares to light the night sky, Wise said, “We kept it up so that the Japanese wouldn’t come out of hiding and attack.” Once after a harrowing long night, a fellow soldier ran to Wise and said, “I saved you last night. I got one of the Japanese right over here.” Wise walked with the soldier to see where a tree had been stabbed repeatedly while it appeared to be moving as the star flares descended.
While Wise’s squad was eating one day, the Japanese came after them and one squad member was shot in the helmet. Wise said, “The bullet went clean through and luckily exited without touching anything.”
Wise served with the 81st Infantry Division Wildcats from 1942-1945, the last two months in Japan.
Following his service, the Wises were reunited in Kannapolis and where Winfred Wise met his son, Phil, for the first time. Since the mill had held his job, the Wises moved into one of the first G-I houses, a 20 x 24 foot house with four rooms and bathroom. Initially, appliances and bathroom fixtures were not available because post-war industry was slow to change from military needs. About 100 G-I houses were quickly constructed for returning veterans and their families. With two more children soon added to their family, Ethel called that time, “The good old days, where children ran and played and we knew they were safe.” Winfred Wise walked to work and Ethel kept the house and the children. The Wises’ time in the house was recalled in Our State Magazine although the G-I house still on display in Kannapolis was not the actual one they lived in.
Wise went to work for the Kannapolis City School System where he retired as Maintenance Supervisor after 30 years. Phil Wise said, “Pop was an accomplished plumber, electrician and woodworker. He was also responsible for the janitors and often drove them to work. It took three different guys to replace him.”
Using his woodworking skills, Winfred Wise made the offering plates and the main cross used in the old Kimball Lutheran Church sanctuary. When the new building was constructed, his cross was incorporated into a much larger version that hangs there today. Wise also built replicas of both church buildings that are currently on display. Cradles and hall trees were gifts to all the babies of the family.
Now at 99 years of age, Wise misses Ethel who died in 2011. Until just a few years ago, he walked and mowed his large yard. Now Wise enjoys eating out almost anywhere country style steak can be found, playing an occasional game of poker and plenty of Solitaire. Curtis enjoys watching Gunsmoke but often naps while it is on.
While visiting the National World War ll Museum in New Orleans, Wise saw a huge photo of soldiers climbing down the netting of a large cargo ship as they prepared to assault a beachhead. One thing led to another and in 2018 much of the Wise family was soon on a 21 hour flight to visit the battlefield of Peleliu, one of the bloodiest US victories of the war. The residents welcomed Wise back, 74 years after he last saw the place. Wise commented, “This time, they gave me plenty of ice cream, but we sure couldn’t think about ice cream the last time we were here. All we got were bullets.”

By David Freeze
For the Salisbury Post

Curtis Winfred Wise is 99 years old and works out six days a week at the South Rowan YMCA with his son, Phil. They would probably be there for seven days except that the Y is closed on Sunday. Associate Executive Director Aaron Crowe said, “We see them every day and its usually about 9:30 a.m. They have become favorites of the other Y members. Both are always so positive, upbeat and friendly.”

Phil Wise said, “I truly do want to see dad make it to 100 and then well past it. I found out from my insurance provider that I qualified for the Silver Sneakers program and later that dad did too. I lost 71 pounds but have gained some of it back. Being here is good for both of us.”

Silver Sneakers is a program available through most health insurance companies intended to keep senior adults active. Phil Wise, 74, weighed 275 pounds four years ago when he started exercising. He remembers going for a walk with his dad and grabbing an arm while asking, “Pop, slow down, I can’t keep up. Eventually, I found I needed more intensity in my workouts and experimented with raising the treadmill incline to 15 percent and pushing hard for 30 minutes. The big weight loss was the result. So, I know exercising helps.”

A resident of Kannapolis and a World War II veteran, Winfred Wise is fortunate not to have any real health issues even though he had a heart attack at age 70. Phil said, “Dad asks me every morning if we are going to the Y. He had an exercise bike and treadmill at home for years after the heart attack, but they don’t work as well lately. We know that we can challenge the whole body with the equipment here at the Y.”

While wearing his 81st Infantry Division cap, Winfred effectively moved through at least a dozen machines while Phil coached and encouraged him. He did the lat pull, the leg press while pushing 100 pounds, and then all the others while Phil set the weight and helped with proper positioning. They eventually moved on to the treadmill where Winfred easily maintained a 3 mph pace. Next came situps and, just as with all the other exercises, he had no problem completing the needed repetitions. Wise did struggle briefly on the bench press and even said, “I don’t think I can do it.” Phil helped him get positioned correctly and that exercise too was successfully completed.

Winfred easily followed his son’s lead and smiled often as they moved from station to station. Phil said, “He thinks I’m a slave driver because I keep him going. I like to ask him what he wants to do next and then we do it. Sometimes, I have to add more weight or more repetitions because he can do them.”

The pair usually include some walking in their routine, but Winfred doesn’t prefer walking around the perimeter of the gym. He does like the treadmill in the cardio area of the weight room that usually has more people around. Lifeguard Clayton Lewis said, “I see Mr. Wise in the weight room almost every day. To know that he is 99 years old is very motivating.”

  There are a few constants to the workouts.  Winfred often does the first round of ten repetitions so well that Phil will ask for five more. Then Winfred counts them off easily and Phil says, “Are you ready to move to the next machine?” Almost every time, Winfred responds with “Not especially,” or “No, thank you,” then grins and quickly makes the transition.

Once the workouts are completed, Winfred and Phil walk out to the lounge near the front desk where Winfred enjoys relaxing and maybe a nap while Phil goes back for his own workout. Most days, they stop by Cracker Barrel for lunch on the way home.

Winfred Wise loves his time at the YMCA. He’s known as a jokester and a little bit of a risk taker. At age 95, Winfred got to drive a race car at the Richard Petty Driving Experience and said, “I was upset that I could only get it up to 94 mph.” But for now, he’s happy as can be just doing his workouts at the YMCA.

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