One Murray County family, 108 years of military service
The military held appeal because it offered them an opportunity to travel, and get an education.
GARVIN — The third Saturday in May is set aside each year to recognize the men and women who have served and continue to serve in the nation’s military. It honors all branches — the Army, Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, National Guard and Reserves and the Space Force — and is one of several days set aside to honor the military during Military Appreciation Month.
For one southwest Minnesota family, the drive to serve their country was initially rooted in economics.
There were seven sons born to Carl and Dorothy Engler — poor people, described their youngest, Rickey, who now lives along the shore of Lake Shetek in northern Murray County.
“It was either farming or not,” Rickey said. “Dad didn’t own any land.”
The military held appeal because it offered them an opportunity to travel, and get an education. All of the boys learned the value of hard work from their parents — manual labor that involved using their hands and their minds.
“Being poor, they didn’t have a lot of options for (continuing in) school,” added Mary, Rickey’s wife of 45 years.
“My counselor told me I wasn’t college material,” Rickey shared. “(My brothers), they didn’t know what else to do either. A lot of them got their education that way — four years in the military.”
What did their parents think when, one by one, they enlisted — some even before finishing high school?
“It was bye — we don’t have to feed you no more,” Rickey said, then added, “Mom maybe cried a bit.”
She’d had her hands full raising seven sons as Carl worked to provide for the family. An injury on the job at Boote’s Hatchery, a long-time Worthington business, left him disabled, but he found handyman-type jobs to help put food on the table.
Ronnie, the eldest of their sons, was the first to enlist. Of the seven, he’s the only one who chose the Army, serving during the Korean War.
“I really don’t know what he did,” said Rickey, noting his oldest brother was out of the house by the time he came along.
Larry, the second oldest, enlisted first in the Marines. After his four-year contract was up, he then enlisted in the Air Force. He made a career of the military, serving more than 24 years in all.
Like his older brothers, Tom enlisted as well. He opted for the Marine Corps, but it didn’t go well. After six months of boot camp, he was discharged with anxiety issues. He returned to the area and joined Ronnie in training to do sheet metal work and HVAC systems with an uncle in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The brothers spent the remainder of their careers working in HVAC and sheet metal, and Tom also did handyman work and painting.
The four younger brothers grew up in Worthington — Richard, Steven, Gary and Rickey. They all served in the Navy, and enlisted right out of high school.
Richard was trained as an electrical technician, making sure things operated like they were supposed to. Steven and Gary each served aboard ships during Vietnam. They operated the lathe and did machine work. Rickey also served during the Vietnam era. He was trained as a construction battalion utilitiesman after completing boot camp in San Diego and advanced individualized training in Rhode Island. His missions were in Iceland and Key West, Florida.
Rickey said serving in the Navy teaches responsibility, but it also gave him a purpose.
“You got to explore and you got to see stuff that you never would,” he said. And the experiences, well, there are some good stories that came out of his time in Iceland and Key West.
“We had to auger a main sewer line in the middle of winter — in Iceland,” Rickey shared. “And not with the modern technology you have today.
“Here it was, the middle of winter, and I was wondering, ‘What did I sign myself up for?’”
He recalled one instance in which they had a white-out for three days and all of the men were stuck in their barracks without food or beverages. They couldn’t see a thing outside in the storm.
“Some guy came up with the idea that if we put hand in hand together, you’d get six feet (between two guys). There were 50 people in our barracks,” Rickey said.
They clasped hands and stretched out as far as they could, and then swung back and forth until the guy at the end of the human chain spotted the bar and led the group in the right direction.
Rickey left Iceland for Key West, serving there from 1975 to 1977. While he was there, a Spanish pirate ship was found off the coast in about 60 feet of water, along with gold, silver and rubies.
“They didn’t tell anybody about it because they didn’t want people to know where it was at,” Rickey said, adding that Key West was the training center for pilots who had to land on carriers, and also had a school for sonar.
“The Navy Seals would go down there and train in underwater demolition,” Rickey said. “When I was there, they had an amphibious base also.”
Once his four-year stint was completed, Rickey returned to Worthington “when there was no money and it was pretty hard to make a living,” in the 1980s.
He found work with Les Johnson of Worthington, first helping to tear apart and build, and then how to lay carpet.
“We did remodeling, we owned rental property together … we built a house on East Avenue,” Rickey said, adding that laying carpet and floor covering was his primary job for 42 years.
Richard spent his life after the military working at Chase Bag in Sibley, Iowa; Steven became a welder and Gary taught auto mechanics in Blue Earth up until his retirement.
Of the seven, just Gary and Rickey are still living.
Their time in the military adds up to 44.5 years — but the family ties to service don’t stop there.
Ronnie had four children, two of whom served their country — Roxanne Engler for 13.5 years in the Air National Guard and Bob Engler for 36 years in the Army.
Larry’s granddaughter, Natasha Engler, served six years in the Army; Tom’s son, Bill, served four years in the Navy; and Gary’s grandson, Jacob Engler, will have five years in the Navy come July. He has one year left on his contract after that, and is considering reenlistment.
“He works on aircraft, in hydraulics,” said Rickey.
Combined, the Engler family has 108 years of military service spanning three generations. It’s something to be proud of.
With Memorial Day coming up on Monday, Rickey, a member of the Currie American Legion, said it’s a time to remember all who served, and all that was accomplished during their tours of duty to “have what we have — a free country.”