Every morning Wes Migletz fires up his ’72 Chevy pickup and drives the 30 miles from his home in Burbank to work at Toyota’s U.S. sales and marketing headquarters in Torrance, he feels something missing in his life.
It isn’t family. No, that’s purring along like the engines of classic cars he bought and sold — the ’55 Thunderbird, ’62 Corvette and ’71 Super Beetle, the car he drove when he took his wife on their first date to Bob’s Big Boy.
It isn’t location, either. A native of Raytown, Mo., population 30,000, Migletz knows what small-town life is supposed to feel like. He takes comfort in the fact that his son, an 11-year-old student at Walt Disney Elementary, coordinates play dates in their tranquil Magnolia Park neighborhood of Burbank.
And it isn’t work. Migletz parlayed his job at Fujitsu Ten Corp. of America into a career position at Toyota. Along the way he worked on alarm design and remote engine starters.
“Here I was, getting fat, living a life of gravy,” said Migletz, 37. “It was comfortable. It was what most people want.”
But it isn’t everything he wants. For nearly a decade, the U.S. Marine who enlisted out of high school and took a medical discharge after suffering neck injuries from an automobile accident, has been plotting his return to the military.
“As I drove through the gate for the last time, after deciding to leave, I knew I had made a decision that I would always regret,” he said. “It’s not about whether we should or shouldn’t be in Iraq or Afghanistan. I know America is worth fighting for. And all along I’ve wanted a chance.”
He knew it would not be easy. In high school, where Migletz lettered all four years, he wrestled at 98 pounds before moving up to the 119-pound division. By the time he joined the Marines at 17, 100 push-ups, along with a deeply ingrained sense of “God, Country, Corps,” came naturally, he said. He would leave by the end of 1991, before enrolling at Los Angeles City College to study Japanese history.
Five years later, after learning that his father’s kidneys were failing due to a bacterial infection, Migletz arranged to become a donor. They had the surgery at the Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
“It was family first,” he said. “I couldn’t worry about anything else.”
Through a study abroad program at the University of Missouri, the business major took advantage of two scholarships, including a subsidized-living voucher from the Japanese government, to enroll at the Jesuit-founded Sophia University in Tokyo.
But things at home had improved little, and his father, Jim, who served in the Air Force from 1965 to 1967, was in and out of the hospital. Jim returned to the hospital years later with an infection stemming from chigger bites and was given antibiotics, Migletz said. The infection spread.
“When he went back to the VA, the doctor said he would need to amputate the leg,” Migletz said. “I never got to speak with him again.”
Jim Migletz, whose father fought with the Army in World War II and Korea, and whose grandfather fought in World War I as a member of the Army, died on July 27, 2002, at the VA Medical Center in Kansas City.
After donating the kidney and graduating from Cal State Northridge in 1998, Migletz knew what he needed to do. Already turned down by the Marines because of the transplant and automobile accident, he needed a Plan B.
“It’s not like the Marines wanted me to pound sand,” he said of his attempts to reenlist. “They wanted nothing to do with me.”
So he took a run at the Army.
“When I looked at the paperwork, it was all there,” said Sgt. 1st Class William Allen, his recruiter. “I made some calls and said, ‘There is no reason you can reject him. Everything is there that you need.’
“I’m very persistent. And I needed to know that Wes was willing to put up with the stop-and-goes.”
Well into his 30s, Migletz stood 5-feet-9 and weighed 205 pounds. But the fire, rekindled by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and later after he lost a good buddy on the first day of ground war in Iraq, burned strong.
He began a vigorous exercise routine — eventually getting in 20 miles a week of running sprinkled with push-ups and sit-ups — in preparation for a possible physical fitness test. The brother of a longtime Marine, Maj. James Migletz, Wes decided to shoot for officer’s school. But he kept getting denied.
It would take four years and a series of physicals, tests and interviews before his waiver went through in January.
“I can’t say I did anything different,” Allen said. “We were persistent. And that’s what it took.”
CHANGE IN LIFESTYLE
While the job at Toyota is protected for up to five years, the change in lifestyle for Migletz will no doubt be drastic. For starters, he stands to see his pay cut by 55%, and his family would likely relocate, he said.
“When we were dating he told me that he was going to join the military because that’s what he has always wanted to do,” said wife Winny Migletz, who manages research grant funds at UCLA. “It might not be easy, especially financially and emotionally, but we’ll make it. He’ll be a great soldier.”
Winny Migletz has seen the look on her husband’s face when he’s in his element, which for the last few months has been among guys nearly half his age at Future Soldier Training, weekly courses that aim to prepare men and women mentally, physically and emotionally for the rigors of the Army.
The crew, which ranges in age from 18 to their mid-to-late 20s, learn to read maps, military history and how to march, Allen said.
“Certainly, I am going to be one of the older, experienced guys,” said Migletz, adding that he’s down to 175 pounds and hopes to serve with the Army’s armor branch. “One of the guys who keeps people in check.”
If he navigates his way through nine weeks of boot camp and 12 weeks of officer candidate school, scheduled to begin July 28 at Fort Benning, Ga., Migletz said there’s also a good chance he’ll see combat before his three-year contract is up.
“I realize some people, even myself at times, see this as a selfish thing to do,” he said. “I don’t want to dwell on that. People who get it, get it.”
CHRISTOPHER CADELAGO covers Burbank City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3242 or by e-mail at christopher.cadelago@latimes. com.