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Overland Park Resident Who Survived Guadalcanal And Now COVID-19 Says He Was Never Scared

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Friends in Service of Heroes
Max Deweese (center, with mask) at a surprise ceremony on May 7, the day of his release from a rehab facility, given by the Friends in Service of Heroes organization, which honors military veterans.

“I figured if I got it, I got it. I’ll do the best I can. And if I can get through it, great. And if I don’t, well, I’ve led a full life.”

Retired Staff Sgt. Max Deweese was part of the first wave of Marines to hit the beach at the Battle of Guadalcanal in 1942, the first allied offensive following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Overland Park resident was awarded two Purple Hearts. Now he’s undergone another searing, life-threatening experience and once again managed to beat the odds.

The 99-year-old veteran survived COVID-19. For the last two weeks he’s been in quarantine, but Thursday was his first opportunity to venture out. He said he needed to go to the bank because he only had 45 cents in his pocket.

“As long as I go through the automatic (ATM) outdoors, I’m alright,” he said. “If I go inside the bank, I’m back at 14 more days of quarantine and I sure as the world don’t want to do that.”

On May 7, Deweese was released from a Kansas City, Kansas, rehab facility after a weeks-long sojourn at Saint Luke’s Hospital South, where he said he managed to pull through with the help of his friends.

“I think prayer and a great, great number of friends who found out about it and joined me in prayer,” he said. “God has something for me to do and I haven’t done it yet, I guess. I’m a little bit amazed that I’m still alive no matter what age.”

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Friends in Service of Heroes
Max Deweese is cheered as he leaves the rehab facility in Kansas City, Kansas.

Deweese retired 33 years ago as secretary-treasurer of A.D. Jacobson Company (now P1 Group), a plumbing and heating company. Before that, he was the comptroller of the old Kansas City Athletics baseball team. (He’d rather not talk about the team’s owner, Charles O. Finley.)

Deweese has volunteered for a variety of causes, including Toys for Tots, the Salvation Army and as a third-grade math tutor at Hartman Elementary School. Until he was hit with the coronavirus, he was delivering Meals on Wheels once a week and volunteering for veteran-focused charities.

He resides at an independent living facility, where, since the pandemic outbreak, the staff had been doing temperature checks of residents to check for the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

Deweese wasn’t running a fever, which is one of the disease’s symptoms. But he did lose his sense of smell and appetite, two other hallmarks of COVID-19. And his oxygen level was dangerously low, something he was particularly attuned to because his late wife had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

He was transported to Saint Luke’s, where he tested positive for COVID-19. But he said he was never particularly scared, having adopted a fatalistic attitude about the outcome.

“I figured if I got it, I got it. I’ll do the best I can. And if I can get through it, great. And if I don’t, well, I’ve led a full life,” he said. “So it really didn’t scare me as much as I thought it would. I’m at an age where I don’t worry anymore.”

It was much the same attitude he had in battle, when “you don’t know what’s going to get you or not get you,” he said.

“I never gave any thought to it, really, because as I said, I just had faith that what the good Lord wants is what’s going to happen to me.”

On Memorial Day, DeWeese plans to visit the graves of his parents, wife and daughter. His one regret: He won’t be able to lay flowers on their graves.

“I’ll probably go and just not be able to take flowers,” he said. “Because there’s no way I can go buy flowers.”

Max Deweese spoke with KCUR at the end of a recent episode of Up To Date Special Coverage: Coronavirus In KC. You can listen to their conversation here.

Dan Margolies has been a reporter for the Kansas City Business Journal, The Kansas City Star, and KCUR Public Radio. He retired as a reporter in December 2022 after a 37-year journalism career.
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