It has all the makings of a box office thriller… military man-CIA operative- near death escapes-multiple romances. But it is not a fabrication; it’s the story of Staff Sergeant Karl Langland. And unless we take the time to listen, these stories will surely fade away.
“I’ll tell my stories to anyone who will listen, but I won’t be the one to write them down.”
And that’s how our adventure began. Karl Langland is a Home Hospice patient. He and his new bride Bobbie eagerly await visits from our volunteer team, including Linda & Rafiki the poodle. It took about five minutes before the stories started. And we were all hooked.
Mr. Langland was born on May 14, 1922, his parents – Karl Sr. & Mina Ruby. He had five brothers and sisters. It was a “slim-riches to rags” story where his father worked hard at the local sawmill and then the farm. The Great Depression lived up to its name.
Mr. Langland graduated from Rice Lake High School on May 28, 1941. He then entered the University of Wisconsin and finished his first year, studying agriculture. The government enacted a program to test cows for bangs disease and he took the job!
“My love life was rocky at that point, and the draft was on the horizon, so on September 2nd, 1942 I chose to enlist in the Army.”
He selected to go into radio school, but his ears were not good enough to take down code… so he became a mechanic. Then he was shipped to Boca Raton, Florida to go to radar school. Follow along closely… because then he decided to go to aerial gunnery school… specializing in the B-26 & B-29 bombers.
In 1943 he was shipped to England, eventually completing 13 missions. At some point he had the time to begin a courtship, marry his first wife Dorothy, and have their first child… Then they all went to Japan where he was stationed at the airbase. Two more children later, Langland’s family began helping the local missionaries… he found they had a lot of needs,
“They operated along the bone!”
And the commissary had a lot of supplies! In total he spent 4 years in Japan, helping to begin local churches. It is clearly evident this was a career hi-light, but he tells us,
“I didn’t blow no horn about it with the Army!”
From Japan, his next step was back to the States – to Denver and Chicago, as an Army recruiter. It wasn’t “his thing” and didn’t last long.
After receiving an anonymous letter indicating there was a great need for the variety and level of his expertise, he was sent to Washington, DC and was declared for the CIA. They wanted men from all legs of service, men with a clean record who could think on their feet… the missions were to be kept secret.
(But he shared a couple of juicy “life or death” stories…)
“While in the Chicago area I was attacked with a gun in my back and told not to turn around. They took me out and beat me near to death and then threw me into a coal bin, leaving me for dead. I survived and crawled onto the building, twisted the wires to cut off the building’s power. The power company came to investigate, and found me. They took me to the nearest Naval hospital. But because I had no papers, they didn’t know what to do with me… so they just left me outside, and would check on me every once in a while. They could tell I was in the military, and figured out how to call my commanding officer for directions… later an Army captain was sent out to get me.”
“While in California, a European sounding guy called me up and said ‘I got something for ya!’ He took me out the boondocks in the woods somewhere. He parked his car, I parked my car. He had a little light, which I followed. All of a sudden the light disappeared, and when I got to where it went out, there had been a bonfire reduced to coals. I felt the heat come in from my nostrils and I knew I had been duped. I fell in. The hole was about 4 feet deep, and had been dug with roots all up along the sides. The coals and hot sand melted and got into my shoes, my feet were burnt and swollen, I could not get the shoes back on… I crawled to my car in bare feet and drove to the Riverside Police Department. They took me out to the airbase. I was there a few days, and they let me go home on quarters for about a month. I had nothing to do but watch TV.”
Despite the near death experiences, Mr. Langland had been in it so long that the smart thing to do was to stick it out until retirement as a Staff Sergeant in 1970… a 28 year military career.
Mr. Langland’s first wife became ill and eventually passed away in 1974. They had been living with his in-laws in Alabama. He still had school-aged children to raise. And that’s when he befriended a widower from across the street. Karl and Martha married on August 20, 1977. He worked as a security guard for a children’s home. He became a deacon at the local Baptist church, continuing his deep commitment to faith. Martha had been in poor health, surviving polio as a small child. They were together for about 30 years when she passed away.
During 2015, Mr. Langland was able to partake in an incredible program for our veterans – Honor Flight. He visited Washington DC with some of his peers… but noticed a lonely gentleman sitting on one of the benches near the memorial site.
“It was Bob Dole. Just sitting there. So I thought, why not go sit with him. So we sat. And shared stories. Did you know he is missing an arm?” (Lost use of his arm)
Recently Mr. Langland developed friends through a resource called the “Good Old Times.” The way he tells it, people of his generation use it as an avenue to become pen pals. And through several twists, he began writing his new bride, Bobbie!
Bobbie says the servicemen’s ads were close to her heart. She sent Karl a “cheery note”… and then one day she received a phone call from him. They corresponded for about a year and a half. And then, Karl drove to Monahans, Tx to meet her.
“Her letters beguiled me!”
Karl and Bobbie married in July of 2016. Bobbie has found herself a real war hero. Mr. Langland has a devoted audience to tell his stories to… and although the stories are becoming more scrambled as he continues to tell them, Bobbie is quick to get him back on track.
As the future of our country’s military faces ups and downs, Mr. Langland says, without hesitation…
“I would probably do it all over again. It’s just part of who I am.”
And for that we are greatly indebted Staff Sergeant Langland. Thank you.