Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Businessman, Public Servant, and Local Sports Legend Wes Deist [otd 9/20]

Wes Deist, 1960. Family photo.
Sportsman and business leader Wesley W. “Wes” Deist was born September 20, 1923, in Bonners Ferry, Idaho. A committed Roman Catholic, after high school Deist entered Gonzaga University. There, he became “a standout back” on their freshman football team. However, the University dropped football after the 1941 season, so Wes transferred to the University of Idaho.

Deist lettered in football for the 1942-1943 season, but at some point he enlisted for World War II. Wes served as a member of the Navy’s Amphibious Raider* force. For that duty, he received special training at Northwestern University and at Notre Dame University.

At Notre Dame, he was identified as a “Marine V-12, of Bonners Ferry, Idaho” … “V-12” being an officer training program for the U. S. Navy and Marines. Asked by the student newspaper to predict when the war would end, Deist said, “Fall of 1944. I don’t believe the countries that we are fighting can keep up their production of war materials to satisfy their needs … ”

Despite his training schedule, Deist found time to get married in Florida, in November 1944. His unit then served in China and India.†

After the War, Wes completed his education and settled down. He moved his family to Idaho Falls in the early Fifties and began teaching people to ski. He taught and coached at Kelly Canyon Ski Resort (22-24 miles northeast of Idaho Falls) from its founding in 1957 until about 2006, when he was over 80 years old.

Wes owned a downtown sporting goods store for a number of years and then “managed eastern Idaho’s largest sports store at the time” on Shoup Avenue. Later he opened an insurance agency, which was still in operation at the time of his death. Through all that, he found time for golf, bird hunting, and other sports activities.

Besides his business duties and various avocations, Wes served three terms on the Idaho Falls City Council. He was instrumental in establishing the city’s Greenbelt along the Snake River, and the spacious Community Park in the southern part of town.

While he was on the Council, Wes was the designated watchdog over an expansion of the Idaho Falls Municipal Airport. He also sparked local interest in an indoor swimming facility, which eventually came into being as the Idaho Falls Aquatic Center – later renamed the Wes Deist Aquatic Center.

Deist passed away in January, 2008.

* Stories about Wes often say he was a Navy SEAL – SEa, Air and Land force. However, those units were not created until much later. Still, Navy SEALs trace their lineage back to a number of Special Operations units formed during the War, including the Amphibious Raiders. Training for amphibious Special Ops members was extraordinarily demanding, and they performed incredibly dangerous missions on hostile beaches.

UDT quartet, WW-II – masks, fins, and guts. U.S. Navy photo.
Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) – “Frogmen” – are perhaps the most famous of these early amphibious Special Ops units. However, Hollywood notwithstanding, scenes showing divers using SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus) during WW-II are not accurate – the Navy had no such equipment at that time.

† Known operations of the China-India Raiders involved a survey of the Yangtze River during the spring of 1945. They then reconnoitered the enemy-occupied Chinese coast from Shanghai to near Hong Kong.
                                                                                                                                     
References: J. Robb Brady, “Deist’s Half-Century of Service” The Post Register, Idaho Falls (January 2008).
“Introduction to Naval Special Warfare,” U. S. Navy SEALS, Official Web Site.
“Student Opinion … ,” The Notre Dame Scholastic, Vol. 80, No. 3, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana (December 3, 1943)..
“Vandals Get Gonzaga Star,” Deseret News, Salt Lake City, Utah (September 24, 1942).
“Wesley Walter Deist - Obituary,” The Post Register, Idaho Falls (January 2008).

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