DiasporaFamily StoryStoriesWilly Welcker and family

By Ingrid McCleary

Indo Willy Welcker's extended family and friends celebrate his 100th birthday
Willy Welcker's extended family and friends celebrate his 100th birthday

Willy Welcker celebrated his 100th birthday in Salinas, California, on October 15, 2023. Family and friends arrived from Holland to honor his achievements. 

Indo Willy Welcker with daughter Cyn and author Ingrid McCleary on right
Willy Welcker with daughter Cyn and author Ingrid McCleary on right
Indo Centenarian Willy Welcker
Indo Centenarian Willy Welcker

When I first met Willy Welcker, I was drawn to his kind face and ready smile. I met him at one of Henny Neys’ and Gijs Axt’s first NorCal Herdenking Ceremonies at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, California because many of the aging Indos could no longer make the long drive to SoCal for the formal Herdenking Ceremonies held there. Afterwards, Henny invited attendees to her spacious home with a backyard designed for gatherings. I spotted Willy in a KNIL (Royal Dutch-Indies Army) Gadjah Merah (Red Elephant) outfit and struck up a conversation. That is when I discovered that, after the war, he not only worked for the same Standard Vacuum Petroleum Maatschappij in Sungei Gerong on Sumatra as my dad but that compound was where I was born in 1956. Both Willy and my family lived in Palembang, twelve miles away. Willy recalled an Elmensdorp (my maiden name) working with him in Sungei Gerong.

This photo is of Indo Willy with his co-workers at the Standard Vacuum Petroleum Maatschappij.
This photo is of Willy with his co-workers at the Standard Vacuum Petroleum Maatschappij.

Pictured here is Willy at age 14. Willy immigrated directly to the United States in 1956, while my family repatriated to the Netherlands in 1957, then immigrated to California in 1962, under the Walter Pastor Act. Fifty three years later, here we sat in sunny California, in the shade at Henny’s backyard and shared stories. I felt like I had met a kindred spirit. We formed a bond borne from a shared history, just as I had connected with Kareen Richard and Nancy Leunissen, when we realized we’d all lost family members on the Japanese Hell Ship, the Junyo Maru. Perhaps, because we are a race of displaced people, when we connect, we feel like we have spent time with kith and kin. The Dutch term ‘gezellig‘ describes it perfectly.

Indo Bojolalli-Willy Welcker at age 14
Willy Welcker at age 14

Just four years later, he became a POW, enduring horrific conditions and laboring on the infamous Burma Railroad. Four years after that, when WWII ended and he was freed from camp, he received six months of military training in Thailand then was placed in a KNIL (Royal Netherlands East Indies Army) Gadjah Merah uniform to fight the Indonesian Revolutionary fighters during the Bersiap Period which ran from August 1945 to November 1947). He survived six years of brutality, torture, and fighting, all by the time he was twenty-three. 

Indo Willy Welcker and family
Willy Welcker and family

Once back to civilian life, Willy moved to Sungei Gerong in 1947 and worked there for nine years before deciding to immigrate directly to the US in 1956. 

Willy and his wife, Rietje, along with their children, Ronny, Jeff, Tony, Cyn and Frank boarded the MS Wonosobo on July 4th, 1956 (on US Independence Day!) and arrived in America on August 12th, 1956. There they bounced between San Francisco, South San Francisco, and Downey before retiring in Salinas. He now lives with his daughter Cyn in Burnt Ranch but returns to Salinas for family gatherings or Indo events.  

Because Willy worked for United Airlines for twenty-five years, his family was able to fly, paying only the fees and taxes.

In 2014, Willy attended the first NorCal Herdenking ceremony where he first joined the salute as the drummer, then later wearing the Gadjah Merah uniform where he received medals.

Lang zal hij leven!! The Indo Project celebrates Willy Welcker, the Indo Centenarian. We wish him good health and happiness!!

The author and publisher disclaim any liability in connection with the use of the information and content of this article.

The Indo Project wants to know how you celebrate momentous milestones?

3 Comments

  1. Rolf, I would love to see a photo of that Batik Flag! And it’s good to hear that your father lived to 100 1/2 (yes, that 1/2 year counts!). Sometimes I feel that WWII men leave Earth early because of the horrors they witnessed & had to carry throughout their lives. My dad died when he was 70 (POW at age 19). So it does my heart good to know Willy & hear about your Dad.

  2. Met veel interesse en respect het levensverhaal van oom Wil gelezen!
    Veel feiten zijn bekend bij ons omdat wijlen zijn vrouw(tante Rietje, een jongere zus is van Henk’s moeder Louise).
    Een geweldig, rustig en intelligent persoon en prettig in omgang. Fantastische leeftijd van 100 bereikt en ziet er nog goed uit ondanks alles wat hij meegemaakt heeft!…..Henk & Hedy

    • Heel mooi om te lezen over de indische gemeenschap in amerika.
      Heel bijzonder een trotse Kniller in zijn gadja merah pak te mogen zien op de foto .
      Mooi dat het nog in bezit is.

      Mijn pa Veri Frederik Wieringa (1918) heeft ook bij gadja merah gediend, de Y brigade en ook birma spoorwegenlijn gewerkt en kolenmijn Fukuoka 9 B en de gell ships ..er naar toe.moest verschrikkelijk zijn geweest ….

      Ook de politionele acties meegemaakt hij zat bij de MP
      4 MP1. JAVA
      Een batik vlag ( circa 50 x 50 cm) met mooie afdruk tekst “zonder vrees en zonder blaam” orde en vrede hebben wij nog in bezit.

      Ja ook dat heeft onze vader allemaal moeten meemaken net als vele kameraden deze hebben doorstaan.
      De kracht om anderen de burgers te helpen te beschermen tegen geweld in ned indie ..

      Onze vader is helaas in 2018 op 100 en 6 maanden jarige leeftijd overleden.
      Maar ook hij heeft zijn medailles op later leeftijd ontvangen in 2016 in amsterdam.
      Al die voorgaande jaren helaas nooit kunnen dragen.

      Wij zullen al deze veteranen nooit vergeten ze voor onze indische gemeenschap wasr ook te wereld betekend hebben.

      Groeten ,
      Rolf Wieringa
      Almere ,Holland

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