BUFFALO, N.Y. — Edward J. Haslinger found work at Liberty Wire Works at Elmwood and Kenmore avenues in Buffalo, thanks to his Uncle Martin who worked at the plant back in the early 1940s.
Haslinger helped build wire coverings for the running parts of manufacturing machines to prevent workers from getting injured, and he also built window cages for factories to prevent them from being vandalized.
The 22-year-old Haslinger, who previously had been unemployed, was grateful to his Uncle Martin, a World War I veteran.
Then another “uncle” found work for Haslinger: It came in the form of a March 1941 draft notice from Uncle Sam.
“Back then, before we went to war, draftees served a year, and then they were discharged,” Haslinger says. “I was looking forward to getting out the following March. I’d taken a train from the foot of Main Street in Buffalo to Fort Niagara in Youngstown. I was issued a uniform that was from World War I.
“When I put the uniform on, it had leggings that went up from your ankles to the knees. Two weeks later, when I was at Fort Bragg, N.C., standing for inspection, the sergeant looked at me and said, ‘What are those and where the hell did you get them?’?” Haslinger recalls of the unwanted attention caused by his goofy-looking leggings.
The sergeant, he says, promptly ordered him to take a hike straight to the base supply unit for a proper pair of military trousers.
“I must have been the most embarrassed guy in the world wearing those leggings,” he says. “They were all looking at me. I said that was what I was issued at Fort Niagara.”
When it came time to assign Haslinger a specialty, a supervisor looked at his civilian résumé, and the word “wire” jumped off the page. He was directed to work as a telephone wire and radio communications specialist. Apparently the supervisor hadn’t read very closely to see that Haslinger’s experience with wire had nothing to do with phones and radio waves.
Haslinger had no choice but to follow orders, of course.
On Dec. 7, 1941, he learned that his service in the military would not conclude in a few short months, as he had planned.
“We were told of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and that we were in for the duration of the war,” he says.
By 1943, he was in the Pacific serving with the 192nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 43rd Infantry Division and caught the tail end of the Battle of Guadalcanal.
“I didn’t see too much action there,” he says, “but it was the first place I was up to my ankles in mud. When we arrived, it was pretty well in check. The Marines had gotten there first.
“I was on so many islands in the Pacific, and there was action; I wish I could remember the names of the islands. When we landed on one of them, the enemy planes were strafing us, and we had to dive for cover.
“My last invasion was at Leyte in the Philippines. By the time we hit the beach, it was very dark. We were supposed to have landed at daybreak. But it was night, and you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. They said find a place to sleep and we’ll call you in the morning.”
Other members of the infantry, Haslinger says, “had pretty much driven the enemy away,” heading toward Manila.
With the island conquered, the Americans “set up camp,” Haslinger says, and he was among the soldiers who remained there until the war ended in August 1945 “when they dropped the A-bombs.”
Though he was never wounded, Haslinger contracted dengue fever, a mosquito-borne tropical disease.
“It was worse than malaria,” he says. “When I returned home, I had a relapse three days before my marriage in January of 1946. I didn’t think I’d make my marriage.”
But he did, marrying Rose Hoak, to whom he has been wed for 68 years.
In 1949, he was hired by the Buffalo Fire Department, and his last assignment was as an assistant radio dispatcher, taking him, in a way, full circle back to his roots as a “wire” man.
At age 96, Haslinger says, he is pretty certain he is the oldest retiree from the city firefighting force.
How does that make him feel?