Charles Lester Heltzel – Colonel, United States Army

Courtesy of his classmates, United States Military Academy:

Charles Lester Heltzel
No. 13356  •  19 October 1918 – 24 May 1991
Died in Falls Church, Virginia, aged 72 years
Interment: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

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CHARLES “LES” HELTZEL was born on 19 October 1918 in Indiana, one of eight children of Elmer and Lilian Heltzel. Young Charlie always aspired to be a soldier — his grandfather Samuel Dawson had fought in the Civil War and his oldest brother Bill was an Army officer. Charlie set his sights on attending West Point and becoming a member of “The Long Gray Line.” He attended Manchester College while awaiting an appointment to USMA.

As a cadet, “Les” was known for being serious-minded and sincere, and he left his mark in both sports and academics. As a yearling he was on the boxing squad. For all four years he worked on the Howitzer and was the assistant business manager for our volume. On graduation he was commissioned in the Artillery.

Charlie trained with the 981st Artillery Battalion in the Mojave Desert and went to the UK in 1943, joining the 195th Artillery Bn (155 mm Long Tom). He waded ashore at Utah Beach in Normandy in June 1944, and was one of the few classmates to wear five battle stars on his EAME ribbon — by the end of the war in Europe he had earned a Bronze Star and four Air Medals.

Three of Charlie’s brothers also served in World War II. Older brother Bill served in the Signal Corps and retired as a Colonel. Brother Art served as an Army dentist during the war. Youngest brother Earl was killed in a glider accident during training in England prior to the Normandy invasion.

When he returned home in 1946, Charlie was sent to ROTC duty at Iowa State, where he and Margaret were married in 1948. In 1949, he attended the Advanced Course at Sill, where daughter Sandy was born in 1950. This was followed by a tour with Fifth Army in Chicago. A year later, Charlie was off to Korea, where he earned three more battle stars as S-3 of the 69th Artillery Bn (105 mm). After CGSC in 1955–56, he and Margaret were off to Europe, where he spent half his tour at USAREUR Headquarters and half commanding the 3-35th Artillery (8 inch) in V Corps. Daughter Leslie was born in 1957 during this European tour.

In 1959, Charlie joined MA&E at West Point, teaching military history to cadets until 1963, when Korea called again with an unaccompanied tour at Eighth Army. A year later, he returned to Washington as the Manpower Chief for the Defense Atomic Support Agency. Meanwhile, Sandy graduated from Congressional Prep and Margaret solidified her hold on the real estate business in Washington. In 1969, Charlie retired and was awarded the Legion of Merit. He worked for the Veterans Administration until 1980, serving as assistant director of Planning Service in the Department of Veterans Affairs — another post in which he could help soldiers.

For more than 20 years, Charlie and Margaret led an idyllic life on Lake Barcroft, enjoying their boat, neighbors, and classmates. In 1984, their life was marred when Sandy died, but they carried on well. Leslie married Vernon Cornwell and continues to live in nearby Manassas. Then, in 1990, cancer was diagnosed, and Charlie and Margaret bravely faced their future. He died on daughter Leslie’s birthday and was buried with full military honors at Arlington in the presence of many classmates and friends. He is survived by Margaret, Leslie, and two beloved grandchildren, Megan
and Christopher.

Charlie Heltzel set his course early to become a good soldier. His gentle good humor and habitual friendliness, combined with the enduring quality of approaching problems with total equanimity, won him the respect and admiration of all with whom he served. Our Howitzer correctly prophesied that his foresight, calmness, and determination would win him the soldier’s accolade “Well Done.” We have bade farewell to a combat soldier, a loving family man, a true comrade, and a patriot. In all respects, he lived a life of true service without thought of gain or self. The world needs more men of his quality.

— His family, classmates, and friends

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