Berth 34 at the Long Beach Marina sits empty.
About three weeks ago, the 32-foot boat, the Why Not, was taken away because the man who owned it for more than three decades, Walter Buehler, died on Dec. 4 at the age of 100.
The Grunion Gazette profiled Buehler in April as he was getting ready to celebrate the century mark with a party on May 6.
Buehler was born in 1919 in Canada. He doesn’t remember much of his early childhood but he does remember when at age 10, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression of 1929 followed.
When the Great Depression hit, Buehler’s father sent him to a farm to work so he could have a place where he could stay and be fed. Then, after a stint at an orphanage, Buehler worked for the Civilian Conservation Corps. He volunteered to join the Marine Corps in 1937, went through boot camp, sea school and went to Pearl Harbor.
Jeff Rabin is a Meals on Wheels volunteer who got to meet Buehler.
“He was absolutely a wonderful man,” Rabin said. “I kidded him he was closer to 101 than 100, but really, he was an American hero in so many respects.”
Before he died, Buehler showed that he was still one tough Marine.
Here’s how tough:
About a month ago, Buehler, 100, rang a doorbell — it was a signal set up between Buehler and his neighbor Lonnie Selander that he required Selander’s help.
After it was determined that the paramedics were needed, Buehler was taken to Los Alamitos Hospital. Selander visited Buehler that evening, but when he returned the next day, Buehler was in intensive care because he had a Code Blue situation meaning he had cardiac issues. After seeing that his friend was doing better, Selander left but got a phone call soon after saying Buehler was in Code Blue again.
“I rushed back over after the second incident,” said Selander who is 65. “I got there about 10-15 minutes before he died. I always say Walt was a die-hard Marine, he never gives up.”
Selander was sitting by Buehler’s head when he died; the doctors confirmed the time of death.
But Selander wasn’t sure.
“I don’t know. I didn’t buy the fact that he’s dead,” Selander said. “I asked the doctors if I could sit with him, and when we were left alone and nobody was looking, I opened Walt’s eye and I said, ‘Doggone you Walt, if you’re still alive you gotta let me know somehow because I’m not leaving your side until I know you’re dead.’”
A half hour later, Buehler was alive. Selander said the nurses rushed in and confirmed to the doctors that Buehler had a pulse.
“Tough ol’ Marine,” Selander said with a chuckle and moist eyes. “And you know, I sat with him and three hours later he passed away. At least Walt got to talk to his son Wally during that time. He stopped breathing when he was on the phone.”
Selander, who has lived on the boat next to Buehler and has taken care of him for the last five years, said Buehler had one more request in those final three hours.
“He asked me for permission to die and go to heaven,” Selander said. “You don’t need permission from me and Walt said, ‘No, you have to give me your blessing and permission because that’s what I want to do.’ I told him I want what you want. I don’t want you to go, but if you want to go, go. I said ‘Walt I love you, but go and be with your daughter.’”
Buehler’s daughter Sandy died two months earlier from cancer.
No flowers or candles were placed on the boat before it was taken away and there will be no funeral services; Buehler’s ashes will be placed in a plot next to his second wife.
“That boat being gone for me is like, I mean, honestly, his death has affected me more than any other person on the face of this earth that has died on me,” Selander said. “My own parents … I wasn’t as close to them as I was to Walt. He was a good old guy.”