Apr 22 2022
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) recognized the service and sacrifice of Ernest Exner in ‘Salute to Veterans,’ a series recognizing the military service of Arkansans.
Exner grew up in Connecticut in a family of six children raised by a single mom. He aimed to follow his brother’s example and enlist in the National Guard.
“I told my mother I’d like to go, she said ‘no,’” but Exner wouldn’t take that for an answer so he changed his birth certificate to reflect he was one year older so he could enlist without his mom’s permission.
Exner was assigned to the infantry and trained to use weapons such as the flame thrower and the M1 rifle.
His National Guard unit activated during the Korean War and he trained at Fort Pickett, Virginia.
Exner was a well-respected soldier and was promoted to drill sergeant. He was only 130 pounds so he had to be mean. “I made a lot of enemies,” he said.
He was committed to his soldiers and wanted to continue serving with the men he trained, but the Army had other plans for him. They “shipped me to Germany. Terrible mistake, wow. Germany had the nicest looking women and the nicest beer,” Exner said.
He served as an assistant platoon sergeant in an infantry company conducting patrols along the Austrian border.
Exner remembers the friends he hung around with at home had all been drafted. “Some went into the Seabees in the Navy and the Air Force but nobody got the Army,” he said. “I pulled rank on all of them.”
Exner was discharged from the military on April 26, 1952 and he used the GI Bill to attend a trade school in his hometown becoming an electrician’s helper in a local factory. That’s where he met his wife Barbara.
The couple had three sons and were married for 30 years before Barbara passed away.
Exner eventually remarried and he and his wife Beverly moved to Florida. He bought a bass boat and Beverly urged him to join the Coast Guard Auxiliary so he could learn to navigate. He was initially reluctant, but soon the couple was volunteering and patrolling off the coast.
“There were a couple of planes that crashed and people drowned and the auxiliary went to pick up pieces. If someone ran out of gas or was sinking, the Coast Guard Auxiliary was there,” Exner said. “We stayed busy.”
Exner moved to Arkansas to be close to family. Today, he lives with his son, Eric, in Bentonville.
“I’m grateful for Ernest Exner’s service to our nation. His service and sacrifice is a great example for future generations of the brave Americans who helped defend our country and freedoms. I’m pleased to help capture and preserve his memories,” Boozman said.
Boozman will submit Exner’s entire interview to the Veterans History Project, an initiative of the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center to collect and retain the oral histories of our nation’s veterans.