FEATUREFebruary 2021

Jimmy Weldon, a liberator of Buchenwald, has a lot to say on life


The 97-year-old speaks about his career, his wife, how to fend off naysayers and about the imprint that Holocaust survivors have had on his psyche and his service for others.

By Heather Robinson, JNS.org

Jimmy Weldon, 97, is a voice actor and ventriloquist known for portraying Yakky Doodle and other Hanna-Barbera characters on “The Yogi Bear Show.” He was also once a soldier. Serving with the combat engineers under U.S. Gen. George S. Patton in World War II, his squad liberated the Buchenwald death camp. He used to publically speak about the experience and talked to JNS.org about his long life, including how he has been handling the pandemic.

Weldon, who is not Jewish, lives in Burbank, Calif.

Q: Mr. Weldon — Jimmy — I understand you were a liberator of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Can you describe the experience? What do you think it’s important for people to know?

I couldn’t believe it. Here’s what is locked in my mind: going in the door and seeing people laying on slabs of wood. The distance was just enough to lie side by side, them reaching out and saying “thank you.” Hundreds of bodies thrown into cubicles nude like animals. I thought, “How is it possible?” It is indelibly engraved in my mind, the inhumanity. I couldn’t imagine. We [soldiers] really were overwhelmed.

Q: I understand that you’ve been very involved with Jewish War Veterans? How has the organization helped you?

It has a food delivery program here [in Southern California]. That’s great, but I already am involved with “Meals on Wheels,” so I have all the food in the world. Dov Cohen, the rabbi, brought me some Jewish food, but I can’t take both; it’s not fair. How much food does one old guy need?

Were you married, and do you have children and grandchildren?

I was married for 30-and-a-half years and then my wife Muriel left me. She died. We didn’t have children. She was a dancer, I was an actor, and we didn’t really want children because we were interested in careers. She was on stage in England when we met. Then she would often go back to see her parents. I figured if we had children, they’d be asking “Where is Mommy?” a lot, so it worked out. I brought Muriel’s parents here several times, too, and they always said, “Jimmy, you kept your promise. You didn’t take Muriel away.”

Sounds like you understood each other.

Oh, yes. When we were young, we would watch TV in the evenings. Other people wanted to “go out,” but she was a dancer and I was acting so we would appreciate being homebodies together. You’re making me think of good memories.

You’ve done a lot of public speaking about your experiences as a liberator. Tell me about that.

I talked to a group of kids about being in the combat engineers that liberated Buchenwald, and one said, “That never happened.” I said, “Never say that! I was there.” My friend Dennis Daily was a top writer for United Press International and I said, “Dennis, what can we do?” He said you can start a nonprofit and talk to kids. So, I set up the Center for Youth Patriotism to instill civic pride. First school I went to, I had them hold hands in prayer and [the administration] said, “You can’t do that.” I said, “Yes, I can.” It was an ecumenical prayer; I didn’t talk about Jesus, just “God bless America and all of us.” They never stopped me after that.

I understand you were the voice of some of the characters on The Yogi Bear Show. I remember Yakky Doodle! Can tell me about your career?

I was a voiceover actor — the last living voice in The Yogi Bear Show. Yakky Doodle was a little duck. I also was the big bulldog Chopper. Yogi Bear is still on the Cartoon Network and Boomerang. I also wrote a motivational book called Go Get ‘Em Tiger.

How has the pandemic affected your day-to-day life? Are you able to see family?

My brothers are gone, but my niece and nephew are around, and I see them. We are trying to be careful and safe. I hope they get the vaccine out soon. It’ll take weeks before they can get around to guys my age. They say they are fast-tracking it, and I hope so. As soon as the vaccine comes out, I’ll go back to schools. You can’t go on forever, but in whatever time I have left … I love speaking in schools. Daily routine is just going one day to next to live best you can every day. Last night, I sat up and watched a movie, Audie Murphy’s “To Hell and Back.” It was great.

Q: What advice do you have for young people?

Nothing will lift you up higher and hold you up longer than the faith and confidence you have in yourself and your abilities. Two of the greatest things you can say are, “Thank you” and “I love you.” And if you tell a woman, “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen” or “Thank you for making dinner,” she won’t say, “I’m sick of it, stop it!”

Q:It’s clear that to get to your age, you are living well. Do you have any advice specifically about health and longevity? Including how to deal with the pandemic?

I’m a hypochondriac. I always think this or that is wrong with me.

Q: Really? I hear that people who live a long time have some kind of perfect attitude. It seems like a lot of pressure, though.

But the secret is attitude. You can’t control every thought in your head, but don’t let anyone step on your attitude. Think of how quickly you can feel so good, and then someone says the wrong thing and instantly your attitude changes. You just have to say “I’m sorry you feel that way” and move on quickly to something good. You have to fight it.

Note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.


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