by Glen Doss, Major –
“What was that?” wondered the young man, 18. Aroused from a deep sleep brought on by the fatigue of the long drive and the drinks the night before, he listened. “It sounded like a child crying; I thought I was dreaming,” recalls Willi Wiersdorfer. “Then I heard it again.” Reaching over to where his girlfriend had been sleeping beside him, he felt only air. Again came the sound of the soft crying. This time, rising up in bed, he looked down and saw his co-worker, who had been traveling with them, holding a knife to his girlfriend’s throat!
“He assaulted her,” recalls Willi, 44. “And that’s where it all started—my drinking, trying to overcome the pain of the memory of what I saw. It seemed like all the bad things that had happened to me were coming together. I just couldn’t understand it, so I turned to alcohol to numb my feelings.”
Willi’s hard road began in Frankfurt, Germany, where he lived until his parents divorced when he was eleven. The years leading up to the divorce “were an ongoing battle,” he says. “My mother would drink. My dad called psychiatric hospitals, and I remember them taking her away on a stretcher.”
When his mother, remarried to a U.S. soldier, was leaving with her husband for Fort Lewis, Wash., Willi wanted to stay behind with his dad. “He told me, ‘I just can’t keep you right now.’ That took a pretty big chunk out of me.”
In Washington, Willi and his older brother came upon their stepfather beating their mother. “My brother and I smacked him one, and we got an MP and ran away. We were picked up the next day.”
After the family relocated to Fort Ord, Calif., Willi, at 18, got a job and “for the first time experienced love.” Then one day a co-worker asked him for a ride to LA. Willi asked his girlfriend if she would like to come along. After traveling for a day, they stopped for drinks and checked into a hotel. It was then that his girlfriend was assaulted.
His life developed a pattern. “I would work for a few months, then the urge for a drink would come on, and I would quit and go isolate from the whole world.” Then in 1984 an incident occurred, Willi says, “that made me feel like I didn’t want to be in this world.”
While he was dining with a fellow employee, “a pretty young lady” met up with them. “We ended up in her car, going to a dance club,” recalls Willi. “Later at my place I told them, ‘Everybody is drunk; you’re welcome to spend the night here.’ The other fellow said, ‘We gotta go.’ She looked at me in fear. She didn’t want to go with him, but he insisted.”
The next morning the police were at his door looking for the woman. Later they returned and said they had found her body underneath the man’s bed—he had murdered the young lady.
Willi now began mixing prescription drugs with the alcohol, leading to hospitalizations. Run-ins with the law increased. “On my third DUI,” he says, “I was sent to prison for two years. That was my wake up call.”
Willi had last attended church as a small child. Confronted, however, with the harsh reality of prison, “I was taking a real serious look.” In a prison chapel service in 1991, he accepted Christ.
In 1993 Willi’s parole officer referred him to the San Jose ARC. “Today I know I have no control over what’s around me, but I know God hears me, and I feel at ease. The Salvation Army gave me a new life—today I know who I am! Life has its ups and downs, but I know one thing—I don’t have to drink or use (drugs) because I know that’s not the solution.”