Jack Waer has seen four wars, speaks five languages, has been to 108 countries and there's a judge in New Jersey he'd like to thank for all of it.
"I was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, but grew up in Newark -- the bad boy area," Waer said. "At 15 I got caught for 32 counts of grand theft auto. I went to court on my 16th birthday. The judge said I could either go to Trenton State Prison or into the U.S. Army."
When the New Jersey judge sentenced him to the Army, Waer said the judge told him if would bring back papers showing he had an honorable discharge, his juvenile record would be burned. So, in February 1952, 16-year-old Jack Waer enlisted in the Army. He served 17-and-a-half hours in the Korean War as a Browning Automatic Rifleman, 2nd Infantry Division.
"I went over on a boat, got off the boat and got shot and was sent back on the same boat," he said. In addition to being shot, Waer lost 16 teeth in hand-to-hand combat in Korea.
It was a short stint, but an exciting one.
He was in the hospital for three weeks recovering from his wounds and was told he could do anything in the U.S. Army for which he had the physical and mental capability.
He went to the U.S. Army Language School in Monterey, Calif. -- it is now known as the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center.
He studied Indo-Chinese, then went to jump school and became a ranger in special operations and was sent to the Philippines in 1953 with a special detachment of the 75th Rangers.
"There I volunteered for a mission and participated in the massive French air drop at Diem Bien Phu on Nov. 20, 1953," he said.
They left the site on April 27, 1954 and on May 7, 1954 it fell to the Vietnamese.
As soon as his first hitch was up in 1955, Waer took the discharge papers to the judge, and his record was burned right in front of him. Then the judge told him not to let the sun set on him in New Jersey.
"At that time, the airlines would fly men in uniform for one-third (of the) price. So, wearing my uniform I boarded a plane in New York for San Francisco. I was in my seat and the stewardess came back and said I was in the wrong seat. I looked at my ticket and it was the right seat. Then she explained they had a passenger that always bought two first class tickets and gave the extra seat to the enlisted man with the lowest rank on the plane.
"That was me. So, I followed her up to first class and she introduced me to Eleanor Roosevelt. Mrs. Roosevelt asked what I wanted to drink and I asked for a beer, but she said that was too low class and ordered me a Manhattan on the rocks instead. So we drank Manhattans on the rocks for the whole six or seven hour flight."
Waer returned to the language school and learned Chinese and was sent to northern India during the Chinese-Tibet war.
After six months, Waer returned to the language school and studied Korean and was sent back to Korea. This time his stay was for a year with the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion.
When the Korean assignment was finished, Waer once again went to Monterey and studied French. He then was sent to Vietnam in 1959 as an adviser with the 225th Army of the Republic of Vietnam Rangers and remained based there until Feb. 1, 1968, though he was not in the country that entire time, he said. Part of his work in Southeast Asia was also with the Army Security Agency as a mobile interrogator with Military Advisory Command Vietnam Studies and Observation Group.
He left Vietnam for medical reasons -- the Jeep he was driving was hit by rocket fire. He spent 18 months in Letterman Hospital in San Francisco recovering from the many injuries he sustained in the attack.
Once he was out, he returned to Monterey, studied more Korean and then was sent back to Korea for 19 months with the 502nd Military Intelligence Battalion.
"I was sent back to the states for a classified assignment and studied advanced Korean for 47 weeks," he said. "Advanced Korean was scientific, technical and political Korean language," he said. "My assignment was to serve as a United Nations interpreter at Panmunjon, but my orders were canceled."
When the last Korean assignment was canceled, Waer was sent to Fort Ord and the 7th Military Intelligence Company of the 7th Infantry Division, across the bay from Monterey, where he was stationed for two years. "I did absolutely nothing there. I was a Chief Warrant Officer 3, then I retired."
Actually, Waer did do something at Fort Ord, he married his wife, Becky, who is manager of the Pine library.
Upon retiring, Waer moved to Phoenix and took advantage of the G.I. Bill and went to Glendale Community College.
The Waers made their home in the Valley for 12 years and vacationed at a cabin they had in Strawberry.
The Waers moved to the Rim country full time in 1991 and opened the Kopy Kat Video Store in Strawberry.
Waer is involved with the Payson Elks and is currently its Esteemed Leading Knight, in charge of the organization's charitable activities. He is also in line to be the club's next leader.
Name: Jack Waer
Occupation: retired linguist
Employer: U.S. Army; Goodyear Aerospace; Loral Defense Systems; Motorola International
Birthplace: Long Branch, N.J.
Family: wife, Becky
Personal motto: If at first you don't succeed, don't take up skydiving.
Inspiration: Gen. George Patton and Madam Eleanor Roosevelt -- who taught me to drink Manhattans on the rocks.
Greatest feat: Surviving the military for 27 years
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: poker
Three words that describe me best are ... tenacious, happy, open
I don't want to brag, but ... I'm probably the only one in the Rim country who fluently speaks five different languages.
The person in history I'd most like to meet is: George Patton
Luxury defined: Being waited on, hand and foot, by a general.
Dream vacation spot: The South Island of New Zealand
Why Payson? There were no military bases nearby.