Family, friends at Ramstein remember airman killed in train accident
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 26, 2012
RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — When Joe Weems saw his first name and the U.S. Air Force symbol tattooed on his father’s inner arm, he thought it was fake.
“He tried to rub it off,” recalled Jim Weems of his first tattoo, inked in honor of his son’s graduation from Air Force basic training six years ago.
The three new tattoos between his wrist and elbow, including Joe’s thumbprint and his favorite saying, “dang ol dang,” are painfully real, acquired this time in memory of Staff Sgt. Joe Weems, who died in May after a freak accident days before he was due to move back home to Michigan.
Jim Weems showed his tattoos and shared stories after a memorial service for his son Thursday at Ramstein Air Base. Joe Weems’ unit, the 86th Maintenance Squadron, delayed the service so family members could make travel arrangements to attend, base officials said.
Jim and his wife, Betsy, said they weren’t surprised by the outpouring of support from their son’s friends and peers at Ramstein and by the dozens of airmen who nearly filled the rows of pews at the base’s Northside Chapel.
“He was a devoted friend, son, and fiancé,” Betsy Weems said. “He was selfless.”
Joe Weems joined the Air Force about a year after graduating from high school in Byron Center, a small farming community south of Grand Rapids. College at the time wasn’t for him, his mother said Thursday. “He loved being part of a group with a similar focus in mind,” she said.
He went on to excel as an aerospace ground equipment technician, compiling a stellar record that included outstanding performance reports, deployments to Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and career field awards, according to supervisors.
Friends and family members described Weems, the youngest of four siblings, as a jokester who cared deeply about others.
“He was goofy and he gave his best effort, making people smile even through tough times,” said a tearful Staff Sgt. Amber Derryberry, who thanked Weems at the end of her eulogy for touching “so many of our hearts.”
On May 14, Weems was struck by a train at an unguarded railroad crossing near Ramstein while riding his bicycle and wearing headphones, according to police reports at the time.
He was scheduled to fly home six days later after deciding to leave the Air Force, family said Thursday.
‘He was going to go back to school in the fall – he had already enrolled – and get married,” said Betsy Weems. But, she told airmen at the chapel that, “Joe loved life, he loved the Air Force and he loved to serve with all of you.”