Week 21: #52 Ancestors – Military
By Eilene Lyon
Nathan Everett Halse entered this world at 3:30 p.m., Friday June 22, 1945, weighing six pounds, 3 ½ ounces. He was the fourth son born to Everett and Reatha Halse. Unlike his brothers, he was born in Corvallis, Oregon, not the family’s home state of South Dakota.
My uncle and Nathan as young boys in Corvallis. There are many photos of the two dressed nearly identical.
“Nathan and I were closer in age than my other brothers,” said my uncle. “He and I also looked a lot alike although he was a bit shorter and stockier… Our relationship was pretty volatile as we grew up. We were constantly fighting with each other. Usually not physical fights, but we just didn’t seem to get along. However, when I entered college and he joined the Marine Corps, we were gradually becoming much closer. I believe that had he lived, we would have become the best of friends. I was very devastated when he died.”
Nathan’s older brothers worked for the local paper, the Corvallis Gazette-Times. They would bring home end rolls from the paper and Nathan was constantly drawing war pictures on the paper.
According to my uncle, “Nathan was ambidextrous so when he got tired of drawing with one hand he would switch to the other. He always said that his dream was to become a Marine when he was old enough to join.”
Nathan spent some time working for the local paper as a carrier, as well. One news clip has a photo of Nathan helping to glue pennies to thousands of papers as a special advertising promotion. My uncle remembers Nathan being a popular student. He participated in school athletics both in football and wrestling. His mother went to several of his class reunions in his place.
Nathan’s high school junior portrait
Nathan was graduated from high school in June 1963 and entered the service in July. He was stationed in San Diego for basic training. He received a first class rating as an outstanding recruit after basics and sent to Camp Pendleton to receive four weeks of training for infantry duty. There, he was selected squad leader, in charge of 12 men. Heading back to San Diego, he was then trained as a radio operator. In late 1963, Nathan visited home on leave prior to being sent overseas.
Nathan (right) with unknown companion in Vietnam 1965.
My father said, “His unit was deployed in the South Pacific and became the first full Marine Division to be deployed in Viet Nam. He saw a full year of combat but was unharmed. Upon his return to the U.S., he was stationed at Twenty-nine Palms, California. He was making plans to finish his enlistment then return to Corvallis and enroll at Oregon State. He would have had the G.I. bill support, of course.”
Nathan never left the service. On December 30, 1965, he suffered a fatal injury in a single-car accident.
“After his experience in Vietnam, he was anxious to be out,” recalled my uncle. “He had a date with a girl in Los Angeles on the day he was killed (I never knew who it was). He was returning from his date late at night. He was driving through Banning, CA, and apparently fell asleep at the wheel. The story I learned was that he drifted off the road and ran head on into a bridge railing,”
“His car was a Corvair. He loved that car but it had the engine in the rear and there was nothing to deflect the railing from entering the car on the driver’s side. It was the car that made Ralph Nader famous with his book, Unsafe at Any Speed. The book was about the failure of the auto industry to build safe cars. It focused especially on the Corvair. It had a propensity to allow exhaust fumes to enter the driving compartment. To this day, I think Nathan was knocked out by the exhaust’s carbon monoxide.”
Nathan with unknown companion and his Corvair
Of course, Nathan’s death came as a shock to the family. My father remembered, “I had received my orders to report to San Francisco for transportation to Viet Nam (my first tour), Nathan and I made plans to meet in Frisco before I left. Our mother was visiting me in Virginia when she was notified of Nathan’s death from an auto accident. That was about a week before we were to meet. Instead I went to Corvallis for his funeral and then on to Viet Nam in early 1966.”
My uncle and aunt had just returned to Oregon from a Christmas visit to my aunt’s family. They got a call at 3 a.m. from Reatha in Virginia.
“That was one of the longest nights of my life. We lived in a duplex right next to the I-5 freeway. After that call I never got back to sleep – hearing every car and truck zipping by our home,” he said.
Nathan was laid to rest at Oaklawn Cemetery in Corvallis, Oregon.
“Carriers” Corvallis Gazette-Times, December 24, 1959, page 24. Newspapers.com.
“Glue pots, pennies” Corvallis Gazette-Times, October 19, 1960, page 2. Newspapers.com.
“Have Fourth Boy” Corvallis Gazette-Times, June 25, 1945, page 4. Newspapers.com.
“Scotties Finish with Unbeaten Mark” Corvallis Gazette-Times, November 5, 1959, page 12. Newspapers.com.
Unsourced, undated clippings from family collection (likely Corvallis Gazette-Times), 1963, 1965.