MARINETTE — Last Wednesday, the United States celebrated Veterans Day, thanking all of those who served in the armed forces in both war and in peace for the sacrifices they made in service to the nation.
Our community is home to many veterans from all branches of the armed forces. One of our area’s veterans, Ellis Langjahr, has an extensive family history of military service and he served as a field artilleryman in the National Guard.
Langjahr said there are quite a few reasons he decided to join the armed forces, including his family’s history. “I had twin uncles on my dad’s side who served in World War I; one of them passed away from the pandemic (Spanish Flu). He got it in the summer of 1918 and died in October.”
His other uncle, however, returned from the Great War and became the postmaster in Unity, Wis., and held that position for a long time. Langjahr said he was able to get to know this uncle before he passed away. “He died when I was about 10,” he said.
Langjahr said that, at the time when these uncles served, the 339th Wisconsin Regimen was in Russia fighting Bolsheviks during the winter of 1918 and into 1919. “The war for them guys did not end Nov. 11; they were in Russia killing Bolsheviks. They fought with the Russian Whites against the Reds,” he said.
Langjahr said he also has twin uncles on his mother’s side who served in World War II. “One got discharged early, and the other one was in the Battle of the Bulge. His older brother was in the Pacific. His big story was that he was sent to Australia, and he said he never wanted to eat mutton again,” he said.
Langjahr said he also had a brother-in-law who took part in the Battle of the Bulge as well, and that’s who he credits with ultimately convincing him to enlist. “He was a battery commander in the National Guard in Marshfield. So I signed up; I was a senior in high school, 17 years old,” he said.
He started his service after enlisting at Fort Lewis, Washington, in 1956. “Five or six years after I was in I was still pulling KP (“Kitchen Police”), and a lieutenant out there says, ‘Well, you can go to OCS (Officer Candidate School) and get out of KP.’ So when the Wisconsin division at the time cranked up an OCS class, I jumped in, and about 120-some other guys did. It was a tough OCS, and out of the 120-some that started, 25 graduated and got commissioned,” he said.
One of the classmates Langjahr graduated OCS with was Major General James Blaney, who died this year.
Langjahr’s branch was field artillery, so he had experience operating a wide variety of Howitzers and other weapons. “When I was in the Arkansas National Guard, I was in the unit that had the eight-inch 110s (self-propelled Howitzer), which are nuclear-capable. The 155 is too, actually; I had training on just about all of them,” he said.
In 1961, Langjahr’s base was activated by President John F. Kennedy during the Berlin Crisis, which gave him a couple years of active duty. “The commander at the time had fought in World War II in the Pacific Theater, so he picked Fort Lewis when Kennedy activated us for the strategic army corps. I have a big interest in that period of time because I had so much relation involved,” he said.
He was also attached to the First Infantry Division during a “reforger,” an annual exercise done during the Cold War. “The First Infantry Division stationed in Fort Riley, Kansas., had one brigade that was permanently in West Germany. Almost every year they would send the rest of the division over there and conduct an exercise, and I was attached, which was about a month or so in Germany. I actually had a chance to go down to the Wall; there was actually two fences with land mines in between, so we could look through with binoculars at the East Germans looking back at us. The two fences with land mines and high-rise wire between were up so the East Germans couldn’t get out,” he said.
The training at that time was to stop the Russians if they wanted to take over the rest of Germany.
After becoming a major, Langjahr commanded the general staff college. “That was a six-month course,” he said.
Langjahr said he stayed in the Army Reserve system until 1991. “When the war in Iraq in ‘91 was cranking up, I was in the Army Reserve at Fort Sheridan (Illinois), and I actually volunteered for it, but I was too close to mandatory retirement. My unit down there, all the pilots and everybody involved, they were activated right then and there,” he said.