Horsham retiree uses golden heart, golden gloves in 70 years of selfless service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond
  • 111th Attack Wing Public Affairs
 "The goal is to hit him before he hits you. But you're gonna get hit; that's for sure. You're gonna get hit...you just want to hit him first," said 87-year old retired Chief Petty Officer Norman Weiss in a low, but sturdy voice at the gymnasium here on Feb. 24.

His eyes flickered with enthusiasm while talking to the Guardsmen gathered around him. A perpetual smile never left his face; and his nimble gestures amplified his instruction. As he continued to speak, the speedbag behind him slowly swayed from his compelling demonstration of skill.

"You gotta have a good defense," Weiss spoke, revealing his New York City borough of Queens, New York, accent. "Without that, you have nothing."

Weiss - known to his students as "Coach" - was in his element, volunteering to teach boxing like had been doing for more than 70 years. For most of that time, his students were military members. Retiring from the former Willow Grove Naval Air Station (Horsham Air Guard Station) after a 30-year Navy career, the base became Weiss's main gym. Guardsmen became his principal students.

Although volunteering as a boxing coach is what many Guardsmen here associate with Weiss, his history of volunteerism and service started decades earlier-- and with a very humble beginning.

Orphaned at three years old with his infant brother, Melvin, Weiss grew up with only his younger brother as a blood relative. As they grew, they both found interest in physical endeavors. Mel, as his brother refers to him, became a body builder and Norman discovered his niche in boxing. The brothers cultivated a powerful bond that would grow stronger throughout their lives--and even continue through death.

While both men served in the military during the Korean War. Mel, a 21-year old Marine, died in combat in 1952.

"I was devastated when Mel died," said Weiss. "He was my only brother. My only brother was killed in Korea; and I had to do something in his memory. He was all I had."

Weiss said he remembered a picture that his brother had sent. In the photo, Mel was cheerfully interacting with the local children in Korea.

"Norman's brother had sent him a picture with some Korean boys in his back; and we were at war with them then," said Weiss's wife Florence. "And Norman wondered, 'What is so good about these children that my brother liked them so much?'

"And that's what he had to find out."

So, Weiss figured out what he would do in honor of his brother; and proceeded to financially adopt 10 orphaned children.

"I adopted five boys and five girls from different countries in recognition of Mel," said Weiss.

But that wasn't enough.

He also spent nearly all of his military pay building and renovating orphanages in Korea; volunteering his time mentoring military members and civilians; and buying livestock and goods for needy children.

"All the money that he made in the Navy went to these children," added Florence.

Aside from helping orphaned children flourish, he used his money and talent to open a gym and teach boxing classes while abroad. He also served as a pro bono coach for his fellow servicemen.

Weiss said that he taught boxing throughout his Navy career and retirement didn't stop him.

When this installation became his final duty assignment, Weiss became a staple in the base gym here, gaining a loyal following from both active-duty military members, reservists and Guardsmen.

"I've worked with Coach for about 15-plus years," said Senior Master Sgt. John Heidrick, the 111th Attack Wing vehicle maintenance manager. "When you have a coach, they instill others things in addition to discipline on the bag."

Heidrick described the extensive reach of Weiss's allegiance.

"He sat here (in the base gym) on days when training was scheduled, but nobody showed up. He still showed up. And he stayed for the duration of the practice because he's got the discipline and commitment to know you have to be where you say you're going to be, and do what you say you're going to do.

"He expects that kind of discipline from those he coaches."

That discipline can be applied to sparring as well as service. And while not a solution to all antagonists that Guardsmen may face, that regulation and restraint might assist in resiliency. 

"Guardsmen are always taught to follow instruction," said Heidrick. "Within boxing, if you don't do what you're told, train and do as you're instructed, you're gonna [sic] get hit. Well, you're probably going to get hit anyway, but just less."

Weiss continues his custom of selfless service here, teaching his students more than how to throw a punch and how to not get hit. Throughout the years, he never lost his drive or inspiration.

This motivation could possibly be the reason he has been so inspiring to those around him.

"I mean, there's enough bad things that go on in the world, right?" said Weiss. "Enough bad things, let's do something good."

Guardsmen have said that Weiss does do good -- perhaps, Mel would agree.