The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

July 20, 2012

Leaving their mark:Father, son dedicate careers in service to country

Frank Sojak
fsojak@tribdem.com

— Every time Lee Wible Sr. and his wife, Violet, look at the moon, they think of their son, Lee Jr.

That is because their son’s signature, along with others who helped to make the Apollo moon landings a success, is on the moon.

Lee Jr., a flight controller for NASA for the last four Apollo missions, and the others were permitted to sign a plaque that was attached to the lunar module that took the Apollo 17 astronauts to the moon in 1972.

The spaceflight was the last time man has walked on the moon.

It is no surprise that Lee Jr. advanced to the forefront of his field.

His father did the same, entering the Army as a private in the spring of 1941 and leaving the service as a major the day before Christmas of 1977.

“We are proud of our son,” the elder Wible said about how he and his wife feel about their son’s work with NASA.

Lee Jr. helped to design and build the backpacks that contained the life-support systems for the astronauts.

NASA was seeking input not only from its own experts but also from others on how to make a form-fitting cover for the backpacks.

Lee Jr. had visited the Davidsville home of his parents while NASA was designing the backpacks to seek the advice of his mother and his mother’s sister, the late Beulah Johns, both expert seamstresses and direct descendants of Joseph Johns, the founder of Johnstown.

NASA didn’t want any seams showing on the backpacks so Lee Jr.’s mother and aunt used the knowledge gained while operating a doll-making business to come up with a way to do so.

Their concept was incorporated with other ideas that NASA sought for the backpacks, Lee Jr. said.

The elder Wible entered the Army on May 14, 1941, for what was supposed to be a one-year enlistment.

Wible said he ended up staying because World War II broke out several months later.

“Before I entered the Army, I promised my wife that I would  marry her May 16, 1942,” he said. “I kept my promise.”

Wible ended up completing ordnance officers training and started working his way up in rank.

He later taught at the Army Ordnance School in Aberdeen, Md. 

Wible said the military was in the process of phasing out the remaining horses in the cavalry divisions during WWII in favor of all mechanized units.

His job was to help the military achieve that goal.

After the war ended, Wible, as a first lieutenant, was assigned to the U.S. command base in Iceland.

The base was charged with making repairs to all of the mechanized equipment that was headed to American forces that were helping to stabilize Europe.

After his service in Iceland, Wible went on active duty with the Army Reserve.

In the late 1950s, Wible was selected to start the first Army Reserve unit in Johnstown.

The ordnance unit operated for a number of years at the Fisher Building before constructing a center on Goucher Street in Upper Yoder Township.

“I was proud to do it,” he said about starting the unit.

He was promoted to the rank of major in 1960 and retired from the military in 1977 at the same rank.

After leaving the Reserve, he worked for a number of years in the open hearth department of the former Johnstown Plant, Bethlehem Steel Corp. before retiring in 1981.

“I’m proud of my service to my country,” he said. “If you are willing to live here, you should be willing to defend it.”

Wible said he enjoys working and did so his entire life.

Born in McConnellsburg, Fulton County, and raised in Chambersburg, Franklin County, Wible had a brother working for the former Leitenberger Machine Co. in Johnstown in the 1930s.

During a visit with his older brother in Johnstown, Wible was asked if he wanted to stay and work for the car dealership.

“I did and worked in the office,” he said.

A short time later, his brother and his brother’s wife were invited to a wedding and Wible tagged along. It was there that Wible met his wife, who was from Woodstown, a village near Davidsville.

Wible and his wife later

built their own home in Davidsville, living in it for

57 years before moving to their current residence at Laurel View Village.

“It’s a great life,” he said.

Frank Popp, a friend of the Wibles, said Lee and Violet Wible are humble people who always have a warm smile and are willing to help others.

Lee Wible has the traits needed to be a fine commanding officer, Popp said.

Wible is easy to get along with, and people always enjoy helping someone who is not demanding, he said.

Wible also would have set a good example for his troops because he is the type of man who would never ask anyone to do something that he would not do, Popp said.

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