Haler family of Waukon has multiple generations, and multiple members of generations, who have served their country

Proud service heritage of three generations of the Haler family ... The family of the late George Haler of Waukon has the honor of having three generations of family members who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. George (left photo above) served in the U.S. Army National Guard in Europe and North Africa during World War II. George’s son, Don Haler of Waukon (center photo above), served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Eric Haler (right photo above), Don’s son and George’s grandson, is currently serving in the U.S. Air Force and was recently promoted to Colonel. George Haler has also had several other children and grandchildren who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces as well. Submitted photos.

by David M. Johnson

Every family has some sort of legacy that is passed down from generation to generation. There are the families where everybody is a doctor or a nurse, or families with teachers, or families with generation after generation of farmers. In Waukon, there is a family that has had both multiple generations, and multiple members of those generations, either having served in the military or presently serving. The Haler family can, without difficulty, point to someone within their genealogy who has put on a uniform that represents the United States Armed Forces. There’s papa George Haler, a World War II veteran; three of George’s children, including a son, Don, who is a Vietnam veteran, a daughter, Nora, and a son, Mike, both of whom are U.S. Navy veterans. Mike also has a daughter who served in the U.S. Army, and another of George’s sons, Larry, had two of his own sons who served in the Army. Don’s son, Eric, is also currently serving in the United States Air Force.

Each and every one of those family members has a different story and has had different experiences.  George was part of the National Guard when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  In early 1942 he became a member of the 1st Battalion, 34th Division, where he and his fellow comrades were shipped overseas to a British camp in Ireland. From Ireland, George’s unit was shipped to North Africa. The unit had been split, one half arriving in Algiers and the other landing in Casablanca. The 133rd Infantry Regiment was entering action with only two battalions, the third was chosen as General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s personal guard. Not at full strength, the regiment joined the command of General George Patton. From there, they had encountered fierce resistance from the Germans. After driving the Germans out, they moved to Tunis for further training, and then advanced to Italy. George’s unit was under fire as they advanced up the Italian coast, finally reaching Rome June 4, 1944.  George remembered the persistent rain, then snow, the unrelenting miserable conditions, typical weather for an infantryman. As the war ended, this infantryman finished his service in the Italian Alps. As the Allies finished off the Axis powers, George remembered passing Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s body hanging from a rope in Milano, Italy. For his service, George Haler received the Meritorious Unit Award Go 151 HQ 34 Inf. Div 44 1 service stripe, Good Conduct Ribbon, American Defense Service Ribbon, European Service Ribbon, African Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon w/1 Silver Battle Star 6 overseas. George returned to Waukon and merged back into a civilian’s life, as did millions of other Americans who were more than happy to spend their lives with their families and friends.

George’s service had some effect on his children as they, one by one, thought maybe that military service might be an honorable avenue. Navy recruiter Arnie Fries assisted Don Haler with his enlistment in the U.S. Navy in June of 1968.   After boot camp in San Diego, CA, Don was assigned to Miramar, CA as a plane captain, responsible for keeping the jets clean, inspected and ready for flight.  Haler requested to be sent to the Navy Training Center in Jacksonville, FL in order to attend Aviation Electrician School, remaining there from July 1969 to the following January, advancing to Imperial Beach, CA to a helicopter squadron for training. After training, the next assignment was to HC-7 at Naval Air Station located at Atsugi, Japan. His squadron mission was combat rescue, mine sweeping, and replenishment while at sea.  HC-7 operated three different types of helicopters: H-2 (assigned to smaller ships), H-3 (found on aircraft carriers for combat rescue) and H-46. This Waukon sailor was with a crew that would have two pilots, two air crewmen, and support personnel of aviation electricians, aviation machinist’s mates, aviation structural mechanics and aviation electronics technicians.  They were rotated to different ships as they came off the coast of Vietnam. Those duty rotations were usually around 90 days. When on ship they were known as being on “Det.” (Detachment). Their job was to be ready to launch a “helo” (helicopter) as soon as possible if there was an alert of a fighter or plane calling “MAYDAY”. The helo would respond by flying out to assist a pilot or pilots who ejected from their craft. The crewmen responding would be ready to jump in and rescue the pilot or pilots. When Don’s tour was completed, he left the Navy with a Meritorious Unit Commendation (two awards), National Defense Medal, and Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal w/ device (1960-1975).

George’s daughter, Nora (Haler) Herr, enlisted in the Navy, serving 1973 to 1993 and being stationed in Orlando, FL; VA-42 NAS (Naval Air Station) Oceana, VA; and COMNAVACT (Command Naval Activities) at London, England.  She then served with the PSD (Personnel Support Activity Detachment) in Norfolk, VA, PSD in Adak, AK, PSD NAS Oceana, VA, USS Puget Sound (AD-38), and USS Shenandoah (AD-44). During her service, Nora earned the National Defense Service Medal with star for the Vietnam era and Desert Storm, Southwest Asia Service Medal for being deployed during Desert Storm, Meritorious Unit commendation, Sea Service Deployment Ribbon and Good Conduct Award.

George’s son, Mike, joined the Navy after graduating in 1974 from Waukon High School. He served from June 13, 1974 to June 12, 1980. His first two years of service involved schooling, including Basic Training in San Diego, CA followed by “Basic Electricity & Electronics” (BEE) and Electronics Technician A1, A2 and A3 school in Great Lakes, IL. To further assist his training, Mike went to Nuclear Power School in Bainbridge, MD and Prototype (S1C) training outside of Hartford, CT. This training prepared him as a Nuclear Reactor Operator, which determined his assignment and tour with the USS James Madison, a Ballistic Missile Submarine, located in Holy Loch, Scotland. This assignment, lasting four years, completed this sailor’s service in the Navy.

With the ongoing Cold War during his time of service, Mike completed six patrols in the North Atlantic and Arctic Ocean. There was surveillance off the Russian coast in the Arctic Ocean, as the Russians and Americans were competing as dominating influences on the world stage. The submarine he was assigned to was not some unarmed research vessel, but was fully armed with 16 missiles and torpedoes, a possible determent to Russian aggression. Mike was part of one of two crews, the Blue crew (Mike’s) and the Gold crew.  One crew would be on duty and the other was training on American soil. He spent over one year total under the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans when in the submarine.  When on sea duty, there were no windows, no electric devices like cell phones, so there was no way for a seaman to know what was going outside the environment of the patrolling submarine. They would be underwater for 100 days, the air was filtered with equipment on the submarine and the vessel made its own clean water. The source of electricity and propulsion was the submarine’s nuclear reactor.  Mike’s responsibility was to start up and shut down the reactor. Drills were run where the captain would trip the reactor, Mike following up by restarting it. As a Nuclear Reactor Operator, Mike had a tremendous responsibility because if the reactor is offline, there was only eight hours worth of battery power before the electricity is cut off. He would stand duty as the Operator for six hours at a time, then perform drills and other duties before, if he was lucky, getting six hours of sleep before going back on duty. There were times he would be awake for more than two days at a time. The living environment on a submarine can be a little different. Smoking was common, but there was equipment that was supposed to remove the smoke but at times was ineffective. A submarine shower involved turning on the water to get wet, water off, then shampooing and soaping up, then water back on to rinse; none of those 15 or 20 minutes of enjoying a relaxing warm shower as the “landlubbers” could indulge in. Then there was only three showers for 90 enlisted sailors.

The sleeping arrangements consisted of bunks, stacked three high and measuring two feet wide, six feet long and two feet apart from the bunk above. No sitting on the bunk, just lying down. Entertainment was playing cribbage. Remember, at this time there were no personal computers, tablets, cell phones, and the internet was not yet invented. No newspapers, magazines, no nightly news programs, and no mail while at sea. Mike would go to the sonar room to try to catch whale songs that might be nearby. After six years of service, Mike’s experience landed him a job at the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station, a 34-year career before retirement. Mike’s daughter, Jennifer, joined the Army and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri in 2000. She was training to be a Military Police (MP) but was injured and left the service with honorable discharge. Mike’s brother, Larry, had two sons also serve, including Scott, who was in the Army from 1996-1999 with the 101st Air Assault, Fort Campbell, KY, and David, who was with the 1st Calvary, Fort Hood, TX from 2001-2003.

Don Haler’s son, Eric, was another member of the third generation of Halers who have served. A 1995 graduation from Waukon High School was followed by a commission in the Air Force in May 2000 and, most recently, attaining the rank of Colonel as of July 2021. Eric is a Logistics Readiness Officer who has been stationed around the world, including Nevada, Germany, Colorado, Virginia, Arizona, Florida, Alabama, South Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan. Colonel Haler commanded the 51st Logistics Readiness Squadron at Osan Air Base, South Korea and the 355th Logistics Readiness Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, AZ. He and his command of 400 to 500 personnel were responsible for the management and maintenance of the Air Force vehicle fleet, refueling the fighter and cargo aircraft, storing and issuing aircraft parts, and all shipping of supplies and equipment around the world.
His many recognitions and awards include a Bronze Star for service in Afghanistan. He has earned a Defense Meritorious Service Medal, five Meritorious Service Medals, a Joint Meritorious Unit Award, three Meritorious Unit Awards, and seven Air Force Outstanding Unit Awards.

It is really something honorable to have so many family members serve in their country’s armed forces. What was the catalyst, the inspiration that attracted so many members of the Haler family to the military? Don said he served because he felt he would eventually be drafted, the Vietnam War was being waged, and  he was part of his Dad’s involvement with the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Memorial Day festivities, and his dad’s membership of the local fire department.

For Nora, it was that pride of so many members of the family serving that she wanted to be part of.  Mike remembered the Memorial Day Services that, like his dad, inspired him to join the Navy.

Eric felt that living in Waukon and the patriotism that was part of the community helped him to decide on a military career, plus pitching in with the Avenue of Flags, Memorial Day Services, and his membership in the Cub and Boy Scouts were factors that made his decision to serve that much easier.

All members of the Haler family felt the military has been a positive part of their lives. Don said the military helped him grow up and be responsible for his own actions. “The highest honor one can achieve is being a member of the military,” Nora believes, noting that it was just so very positive in her life.
Mike’s civilian employment was due, in part, because of his service, so that was a positive aspect of his service.

Eric has observed that the many life lessons that are learned in the military plus the lifelong friends during service are good features. “If you want to travel, the military has enabled me to visit 37 countries and 37 states,” he said.

For many of them, the biggest negative is being away from family. All felt that military service would be a positive part of the younger generation, that it would give some guidance and assist with resolving issues, as they feel the military is on top of being responsible in their actions. Mike believes that, “The military should be a requirement for all teenagers. This would give them an experience of the real world and, possibly, they would have a better understanding of why the military is so important to freedom.”

The narrative today appears that the military is becoming more conscious of social issues that have recently more prominently emerged. Eric does not necessarily agree that the military is concentrating even more on social issues these days, directing attention to where the military is composed of a cross-section of the U.S. population and noting that positive impacts to the military have been made in the last 18 months from initiatives started well before the more recent and consistent media focus on social issues. All members of the Haler family who have served in the Armed Forces have nothing but positive feelings for the United States military. They are all proud that they played a role as part of that firewall against enemies that threaten this nation’s freedom and the freedoms of others. This is one family whose actions assisted in delivering the necessary brains and brawn to preserve the protection of this country’s citizens. A soldier’s service is the gift of freedom, the freedom of speech, religion, assembly and all those other freedoms that this nation’s Founding Fathers deemed necessary for the survival of a free republic. The Haler family has more than been an active participant in this legacy of American freedom.