Weinbrenner shares experiences as veteran, mail carrier, and border patrolman

Thursday, July 19, 2012
At left, Weinbrenner poses with his K-9 Border Patrol partner, Gus, who worked with him in combating drug trafficking along the U.S. border.

By Neoma Foreman

Nevada Daily Mail

"I guess you could say I've worn three different uniforms of my country for 37 years," said Larry Weinbrenner of El Dorado Springs.

In June of 1957, Weinbrenner, after graduation from Southeast High School in Kansas City, enlisted in the United States Air Force. He wanted to join the Unites States Marine Corps, but his high school friends talked him into the Air Force, saying they could do their basic training together through the buddy system.

"We enlisted together; and after finishing basic training, we were sent our separate ways."

Weinbrenner underwent basic training at Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio, Texas. The next two years found him in Amarillo, Texas, at the Air Force base. While stationed there he was trained to be a jet refueler on the B52 and fighter jets, as part of the ground crew.

"I was fortunate to have served during four years when this country was not at war. However, I didn't get out of the states," he said.

His next assignment was at Ellsworth Air Force Base at Rapid City, S.D., where he served for a year and a half. He was sent there to work at the 4035th Hospital Squadron as a dental technician because he had worked at that profession before he enlisted. His second duty was to serve as an air policeman during alerts.

"On one of the alerts, I was sent to guard a B52, in the dead of winter; and it was below zero. I was supposed to only have to be on guard duty for two hours; but I was out there for eight hours and ended up in the hospital with severe frostbite. They said there was some sort of mixup on the guard roster and the jet, which wasn't on flight status, was not supposed to have a guard. That was the reason I wasn't relieved."

While stationed at Ellsworth, Weinbrenner also witnessed the crashing of a B52 that was attempting to land.

When Weinbrenner was home on leave in January of 1958, he met Jeanette Ellis in Kansas City. They became engaged later that year and were married in 1961. He worked for 10 years as a mail carrier; but since he had a desire to work in law enforcement, he also served as a reserve police officer in Grandview, Mo.

In 1971, he joined the Immigration and Natural-ization Service as a border patrol agent. He attended the Border Patrol Academy at Port Isabel, Texas, for 16 weeks of training, consisting of learning to speak Spanish, learning the statutes relating to immigration and customs, firearm and self-defense training, and more.

For the next 17 years, he served at the Cotulla, Texas, Border Patrol Station. Some of his duties were to apprehend illegal immigrants, drug smugglers and enforce customs and immigration laws.

The station covered a big territory and daily high temperatures reached 110 degrees for weeks at a time. He usually volunteered to work midnight shifts to avoid the extreme heat; but even at night, the temperature often remained at about 90 degrees.

Weinbrenner said it was while he was at Cotulla that he came closest to being shot. His partner had called in sick, so Weinbrenner was working alone.

"I was assigned to work roving patrol while the other agents set up the checkpoint. A Dodge van drove up to the checkpoint. There were only two men in the vehicle, but it was apparent to the agents that it had been recently used to haul many people. I was given a description of the vehicle to watch for. About 10 minutes had transpired when I noticed the vehicle sitting in a rest area.

"At about the same time, agents found about 10 illegal aliens hiding in the brush who admitted to having been in the van. I drove up behind the van at the rest area and started to get out of the car when a fellow agent radioed me to standby until I could get backup.

"After backup arrived, we took the two men and the van into custody, then took them back to the Border Patrol Station for interrogation. The illegal aliens admitted they were paying the men to transport them to Houston, Texas.

"The driver of the van, acting very nervous, admitted to an agent that the passenger in the van was the actual smuggler and was paying him, the driver, $100 to drive the van. He further stated that both men watched me pull up behind their van at the rest stop and the passenger said he was going to shoot the agent as he approached the van. The driver said if we went out to the van and removed the engine cowling that covered the engine (those older vans had the engine access between the driver and passenger seats. You had to remove the cowling to service the engine) we would find a pistol lying on the air breather. Sure enough, we found a loaded .357 magnum revolver just where he said. I sort of went weak-kneed."

In 1987, Weinbrenner was transferred to Lynden, Wash., where he became the first Border Patrol K-9 handler in Washington state. His duties were much the same as they had been before -- apprehending drug smugglers and illegal aliens; except that this time, his partner was a dog. However, he especially enjoyed participating in the drug interdiction program in the schools and noted that many more of the kids seemed to be paying attention when they got to see the dog work.

"It was the highlight of my K-9 career. Kids would relate more to an animal than just my speaking; and I would give a demonstration showing them how my dog, Gus, could find drugs. One time a teacher came up and asked if I would mind bringing my dog back to the room for the special needs children after I had just given a program and demonstration for the other kids in the school. Those kids came alive when I brought Gus in. They hugged him, and he ate up all that attention. All the children loved him."

Ap-parently, quite a few folks loved Gus.

"Gus was supposed to retire with me, but he died unexpectedly about four months before we were to retire. They had a special ceremony for Gus in the town where we lived. If you go to Lynden, Wash., today, you will find a cherry tree there with a special plaque in memory of Gus. He proved to be an exceptional dog."

In 1993, just before Gus died, Weinbrenner found a vehicle parked in the brush around midnight along the border with Canada. Deducing that the man was probably "up to no good," he pulled over and asked for the man's identification.

The man was very belligerent, Weinbrenner said, but he gave his ID to Weinbrenner, who went to the patrol car to check it and found he was in a "dead spot" and the radio wouldn't work. The man got out of his vehicle and walked behind Weinbrenner's patrol car, all the while keeping his hand in his pocket.

"The hairs on the back of my head stood up and I wondered if this was it! I thought about getting Gus out, but he hadn't been feeling well and I didn't want to get him hurt. I wrote down the man's description in case something happened to me and kept trying to get a radio check. Finally, when I could stall no longer as I had nothing to hold him on, a car drove up behind the patrol car. I thought it was backup, but it turned out to be the guy's girlfriend. I guess he didn't want to start anything with her there; anyway, I let him go.

"When I got to higher ground I ran a radio check, and sure enough, he was wanted for assault on a police officer. I believe my guardian angel was working overtime that night," Weinbrenner said.

Weinbrenner's last apprehension before he retired in 1993 was a baboon. He saw a car parked on a dirt road along the border and stopped; a man in the vehicle was was very nervous.

"I figured he was smuggling something. I started to open his camper shell and he told me I ought not.

"As I shined my flashlight into the camper shell, a big baboon looked me in the eye. I decided I didn't want to tangle with that. I called the game warden. They wouldn't come because the animal was not native to the state of Washington. I sent the man on to the Port of Entry and don't know what happened after that. Smuggling exotic animals into Canada was a big business."

Weinbrenner and his wife make their home in El Dorado Springs and are active in the community. They have two sons, John in Seattle, and Craig in Arizona.

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