Military helped Hutchinson man see the world, reach goals
By Grace Brandt
When Harley Roy Mohr of Hutchinson was growing up on a farm outside of Ayrshire, Iowa, he never dreamed that he would someday live in places as far flung as Germany, Vietnam and Iran. But those are just some of the places that Mohr visited during his 23-year career in the U.S. Army. Before he retired as a lieutenant colonel, Mohr traveled across the world and experienced paratrooping school, Cold War preparation and even oversaw the Army’s finances for most of its European bases at one time.
A long way from Iowa
Mohr was born on Jan. 4, 1938, the youngest of five children. When he wasn’t attending school, he worked hard on his parents’ farm. He graduated from the Ayrshire Consolidated School System in 1955 and went on to Iowa State University.
At the university, Mohr was part of the U.S. Army Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program, as well as a private in the U.S. Army Reserve. He said he was drawn to the military because of his love of history.
“I think that I always kind of thought about going into the service as I was growing up,” he said. “There were no other reasons other than I was kind of a history buff and enjoyed reading about wars and battles and things.”
Mohr graduated with a bachelor of science degree in agriculture and business in 1960, receiving his commission as a second lieutenant shortly after. He was first assigned to Fort Sill, Okla., to attend the field artillery officers’ basic course. The nine-week course included classroom instruction, physical conditioning training and hands-on training with equipment such as howitzer artillery. Mohr said that officers needed to use trigonometry and coordinate charts to figure out how to direct their fire since there was no GPS at that time.
“I liked the math part of it—being able to direct fire onto a set of coordinates out there, four or five miles away,” he said. “It wasn’t very difficult, because you had tables that told you quickly what the settings should be, once you figured out where the target was. It would take maybe a couple of minutes, radioing back and forth.”
After Mohr finished his studies, he attended airborne training at Fort Benning, Geo., though he first took time to get married. Almost a year earlier, he had met Ruth Siemers at a dance at the Woodcliff Ballroom near Spencer, Iowa. They were married Sept. 3, 1960.
In order to pass airborne training, service members were required to have five successful jumps. These were all crammed into one final week, and, on the last jump, they needed to carry their full gear, which weighed about 50 pounds.
“They give you the signal to go stand in the door, they yell, ‘Jump!’ and then you jump,” Mohr recalled. “I made it. The guy ahead of me went. If he’d have stopped, I probably would have too. But he went, so I did too.”
Going to Germany
Mohr was next assigned to the U.S. Army Training Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky, training new Army recruits. His Army contract was set to end at the end of 1962, but then the Cuban Missile Crisis happened. All officers’ tours of duty were extended for one year, and Mohr applied for indefinite active duty in the hopes of being transferred to Germany, where he had family.
Mohr’s first son, Jeruld, was born in 1961, and the Army sent the family to Bamberg, Germany in 1963. A few months later, son Lawrence was born.
Mohr said that living in Germany in the growing Cold War was surprisingly relaxed. While there was a real threat of some kind of conflict happening, he was able to go about his daily business without thinking about it.
“(An attack) hadn’t happened, so I wasn’t worried yet,” Mohr said.
While in Germany, Mohr changed branches to the Army’s finance corps. As deputy finance officer, he was head of the military pay section. The division payroll was $3-4 million, so Mohr would visit the local bank and draw out enough money before every payday.
“It was just me and the jeep driver [and the military police escort],” Mohr said. “Everybody knew we were coming. Nothing ever happened.”
Going to Vietnam
In 1966, Mohr was transferred to the finance office at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. While there, he welcomed his last child, Marjorie.
Hundreds of soldiers were constantly arriving and departing from the base during this time because of the Army’s growing presence in Vietnam. Mohr said he knew that going to Vietnam was “inevitable.”
“It wasn’t a question of if, it was a question of when,” he said.
Mohr was sent to Vietnam in August 1968. He was assigned to the Comptroller’s Office USMACV (US Military Advisory Command Vietnam). MACV provided assistance to the Vietnamese government. After some time, he was reassigned to be the financial advisor to other Free World forces serving in Vietnam, including Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, China and Korea.
Mohr left Vietnam in July 1969. By this time, public sentiment had greatly shifted regarding the war. Homecoming soldiers were sometimes greeted with angry protests at the airport, where people would call them “baby killers” and spit on their shoes.
Mohr and his fellow soldiers were warned that it might be safer for them to not return home in their uniforms. During a layover in Japan, he took off his uniform, changed into civilian attire and threw the uniform away.
Mohr said that he struggled with how Americans responded to soldiers’ return from war.
“I think that did a lot of damage to a lot of people,” he said. “By the time I got done with Vietnam, I was pretty disgusted with the military. I didn’t want to serve any more.”
A new world
While Mohr could have ended his service after Vietnam, he changed his mind when he received his next assignment: attending the Masters of Business Administration program at Indiana University. For two years, his entire responsibility would be simply completing graduate school. He wouldn’t need to wear a uniform or drill the whole time.
“That was a pretty hard opportunity to pass up,” he said. “Those were the best two years of my Army career. I spent more time with my family than I ever got to before.”
After graduating in 1971, Mohr was assigned to the U.S. Army Finance School at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, Indiana. (The base is no longer in use.) He commanded a division in the accounting department, staying there until 1974.
Mohr’s next assignment was Germany, and his family was excited to return. However, only days before they were scheduled to leave, he received startling news: He had been reassigned to Tehran, Iran as the finance officer of the Military Assistance Group (MAG).
“It was kind of a shock,” Mohr said. “I think I was the one who was upset the most, when Ruth and I discussed it. A little bit later, we decided that if that was where we were supposed to go, that’s where we were going to go.”
In Tehran, Mohr was responsible for the finance services for the members of all the military services assigned to Iran. If necessary, he would order more dollars from the Central Bank of Iran, which supplied the U.S. Army’s needs.
Mohr said when he arrived in Iran, there was already an undercurrent of tension in the area, with sporadic protests against Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. However, Christians were still allowed to openly worship, and Mohr was part of a group that started a church in the area.
A handful of military members were assassinated while Mohr was there, including his predecessor. He tried to vary his route from his home to work every morning, leaving at different times and taking different streets.
In 1976, Mohr was reassigned to Germany—and this time, he was actually able to go. He and his family were some of the last American military members and their families to live in Iran before the Iranian Revolution. The officer who took over for him when he left was eventually forced to flee, along with many other service members who barely escaped with their lives.
The end of a career
When Mohr returned to Germany, he became the finance officer in charge of Central Finance, the largest U.S. Army finance office. Mohr looked over the pay of 10,000 soldiers, as well as nearly all the civilians working on bases in Italy and Germany.
After two years, he was reassigned to United States Army Europe (USAEUR) as the staff officer for all nonappropriated accounting in Europe. He oversaw accounting for about 1,500 of the Army’s officers’ and noncommissioned officers’ clubs.
Mohr finished the rest of his Army career at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. In July 1979, he was assigned as the fort’s comptroller and was responsible for the finance office, accounting office, internal review office and the budgeting office for the entire fort.
As Mohr approached his 20-year active duty anniversary, he decided to apply for retirement because he knew that it would take at least six years to be promoted. He officially retired on Sept. 30, 1980.
Around the same time, Mohr was hired as a professor of accounting at Mankato State University. The family moved to Mankato, where Mohr taught briefly before becoming the finance director for the city of Mankato. He served in that position until he retired. His wife Ruth passed away in 2007, and he eventually married Ruby Wagner in 2009. The two of them have lived in Hutchinson for several years.
Mohr said looking back over his 20 years in the military, he is glad he joined the Army.
“A lot of good things happened because of it,” he said. “If I hadn’t joined, I don’t know if I would have ever left Iowa, or where I’d be today.”