Col. Charles R. Etzler, 82, had 30-year Army career

September 28, 1994|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Col. Charles R. Etzler, a career military officer who witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor, died Friday of cancer at Stella Maris. He was 82.

The Libertytown native had joined the Army five years before the attack. He was stationed with the 21st Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks near Pearl Harbor when the Japanese launched the early morning attack Dec. 7, 1941.

"We had been out late the night before at a cabaret and were sleeping late," recalled his wife, the former Ann Johnson, whom he married in 1939.

"As the planes started the attack, my husband said he wished that the Air Force would do their practice runs later in the day. A moment or two later, as he heard the planes approaching, he said without looking at them, 'My God, they're not ours!' He could tell by the sound of their motors.

"They flew over so low with machine guns blazing that we could see the pilot. We weren't scared, just mad," Mrs. Etzler said.

An infantryman, Colonel Etzler spent World War II in the Pacific and saw action in the Philippines. His wartime decorations include the Silver Star, Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and the Asiatic Campaign Medal with five battle stars.

After the war, he attended the Army War College at Carlisle, Pa., and had overseas assignments in Korea, Germany and Japan. "We did 29 moves in 26 years," Mrs. Etzler said.

When he retired in 1966, ending a 30-year Army career, he was chief of staff of the Intelligence Corps at Fort Holabird.

He moved to Woodbine and purchased a farm, naming it Colonel's Pride. He made two wooden eagles -- the insignia of a colonel -- and installed one over the portico of the farmhouse, which dates to 1917, and the other on his mailbox. On the farm, he raised vegetables and flowers and planted walnut and pine trees.

He was a member of American Legion Gold Star Post No. 191, Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 10076 and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association Inc.

A profile in an American Legion publication noted his sense of humor and described him as being "nothing like the martinet image of most Army colonels."

The son of a Frederick County blacksmith, sheriff and bartender, he attended Carroll County schools and graduated from Mount Airy High School in 1928. He earned a bachelor's degree from Western Maryland College in 1932 and was a biology teacher before joining the Army.

Memorial services were set for 1 p.m. today at the Burrier-Queen Funeral Home, 1212 W. Old Liberty Road, Winfield, with interment at 9 a.m. tomorrow at Arlington National Cemetery.

Other survivors include two sons, Charles R. Etzler Jr. of Mount Airy and Norman Wilson Etzler II of Valley, Ala.; a daughter, Ann Logan Wilhelm of Cockeysville; a brother, Norman E. Etzler of Mount Airy; a sister, Anne S. Hurley of Damascus; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Memorial donations may be made to American Legion Gold Star Post No. 191, P.O. Box 24, Prospect Road, Mount Airy 21771.

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