Charlie Henkleman

Charlie was the best man in our wedding.  He and I first met in 1965.  We were stewards in the officers Mess, and we hit it off from the beginning.  Charlie was easy to be with and had a good sense of humor.  He was there the night in Laguna Beach when Jenny and I met.

Charlies career took a turn when he was interviewed and accepted as Major General Frank Tharin’s personal steward.  He worked in the Generals office along with the Chief of Staff, Adjutant, and the Aide-de-camp.  It was a big deal, and he was very humble about his work.

General Tharin was a war hero.  He earned a Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, two Air Medals and a Purple Heart.  He had a big role in the sinking of a Japanese Cruiser and downed several fighter planes in the 17 day fight for Wake Island.  The tiny Atoll fell on December 23, 1941.  He was captured and held as a prisoner of war in Hokkaido, Japan, until the war ended four years later.  After the war he returned to active duty and graduated from the National War College.  He was always a pilot.

One night Charlie called to give me a heads up . . . General Tharin was coming to the range to FAM-fire the new M-16 the next day.  I had never met the General but knew of him through Charlie.

On Friday the staff officers arrived for the FAM-fire and listened to Bradbury describe the characteristics of the M-16 (muzzle velocity, effective firing range, rate of fire, etc.).  After my demo the officers took their places on the line, and I managed to be the Generals coach.  After firing a couple rounds he asked me if it would empty the full 20 round magazine on automatic.  I answered, “Yes Sir, but short bursts are more effective.”  He smiled, “Same as firing from a fighter plane.”  He emptied the magazine in three short bursts, and I offered him another.  He declined and looked at my name tag and said, You must be Charlie’s friend,” and I answered, “Yes Sir.”  He offered, “Charlie’s a good Marine.” and walked off the line.

Every World War II veteran I met was low key and humble.  The acronym PTSD hadn’t been coined, and now I wonder if they were silently feeling the effects of it.  I think the mentality at the time was to just suck it up.

Charlie got out of the Marines in 1968 and moved home to Idaho.  General Tharin retired in 1970 and lived in Laguna Beach until he passed away in 1990 at the age of 79.

Next editon:  A Thanksgiving to remember.

General Tharin
General Frank Tharin – FAM firing M-16

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