Friday, June 15, 2007

Fathers of Mine: Harlan Martin Geyer Jr

Harlan as a baby

My father, Harlan Martin Geyer, Jr., was born on May 9, 1947 to Harlan Martin Geyer, Sr., and Ila (Bear) Geyer, at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Oceanside, San Diego, California. He was the oldest of two children born to Harlan and Ila, and the only son. He was always very close with his younger sister Cherie. He died on November 2, 2001.

From the start, he was a caring person and an animal lover. He was always bringing home stray animals and wild creatures and volunteered with the local church group.


Granada Hills - A group of young people of high school and college age, called "SLUPYouth" from the St. Luke Presbyterian Church, 16200 Chatsworth St., Granada Hills, assisted wheelchair and bed patients to attend a Presbyterian worship service at Los Angeles County General Hospital.

Nancy Laich, Rhonda Dale, Marna Muenze and Dawn Buell, Chuck Benyei, Ken Hanson and Harlan Geyer Jr., met at the General Hospital for their instructions.

The young people were assigned to patients and given instructions by the hospital staff.

The service was scheduled for one hour after which the patients were returned to the wards. The young people felt that it was an inspiring and rewarding experience to help these people.

Source: "Church Youth Help Hospital Patients at Worship Service," Valley News, Van Nuys, California, 24 June 1966, page 36-A, column 1.


Harlan at 18 years old

Sometime during his first year of college, Harlan decided that he needed to serve his country. Over the strenuous objections of his career Marine father, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

He always told us children that he got in a fist fight with his dad when he told him, but this may have just been him kidding around. From an interview with my grandfather, Harlan M. Geyer, Sr., on November 26, 2005:

Christina: Is it true that when dad came home and said he volunteered for the Marines that you got in a fight and punched him?

Harlan: No I did not punch him, that I know of.

Christina: He always said that you were fighting in the front yard and you punched him.

Harlan: I don’t remember that, I just…

Cherie: I remember him crying.

Harlan: I was just upset because I figured that I did enough for both of us and when I became convinced that he was determined to go into the Marine Corps, I realized that I had to make a change and I said okay, if you’ve gotta go, I’m taking the day off and I’ll take you down myself. So I took him. And when the recruiting sergeant called me, wanted to talk to me, and I told him to go to hell. And he said that he was supposed to pick him up at 5 o’clock in the morning or something like that and I said, well, if you do you’re a dead man. But then Junior come home and he was so uptight about wanting to be a Marine that I decided that the best thing for me to do was to change my attitude and support my son.

Christina: Did he say why he wanted to be a Marine so much?

Harlan: He wanted to be like me.

Harlan after completing boot camp
My aunt Cherie is on the far left and my grandma and grandpa are to the right

Harlan served from 15 June 1966 until 1 March 1969. Over this time period, he was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Campaign Medal with device, Meritorious Mast, Presidential Unit Citation, Vietnam Service Medal with three stars, Combat Action Ribbon and the Good Conduct Medal. His combat history included counterinsurgency operations and participation in the operations De Soto, Kentucky, Osceola, Lancaster, Dye Marker, Scotland and Napoleon. He was a member of HMM-163, MAG-36, 1stMAW.


A Marine rifle company in Vietnam will shortly display a California State Flag through the efforts of State Sen. Tom Carrell of San Fernando.

The flag was sent to Marine Pfc. Harlan Geyer, a Mission Hills resident, at the request of his mother, Mrs. Harlan M. Geyer, Sr., 10882 Arleta Ave., who wrote to the Senator and told him that her son, a native Californian, had requested one.

Accompanying the flag, Sen. Carrell sent a certificate attesting to the fact that the flag has been flown over the State Capitol in Sacramento.

In a cover letter to the Marine, the San Fernando Valley solon declared, "We will be proud to have it flown over your company in Vietnam."

Source: State Flag Sent to Valley Marine on Vietnam Duty, Valley News, Van Nuys, California, 9 Apr 1967, page 2-A, column 5.


After the Marines, Harlan finished college, getting a degree in Accounting, and began working as an Auditor for the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office. As part of his job, he spent long periods overseas investigating the books of U.S. military bases around the world. In 1973, he was sent to investigate a base in Thailand and was assigned to work with a beautiful Thai bookkeeper, my mother, Unchalee.

My mom and dad in Thailand

They married in Bangkok on 10 June 1974, and had a second ceremony on 18 June 1974 at the Candlelight Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada. About nine months later, I was born and was always Daddy's Girl. Three and six years later, respectively, my brothers Christopher and Christian were born.

My brother Christopher and I with dad

My dad was my best friend and I still miss him a lot, especially our long talks. He totally got me and at least for me, finding someone who gets you is a big deal. He was an avid gardener and loved clematises, planting them wherever he could. The yard in Virginia was filled with bird feeders and bird baths, he even put dog food out in the woods for the local foxes (whether or not this was a good idea, I don't know, but the neighbors have taken up doing it now).

The proud papa at Christopher's high school graduation
L to R: Christian, Harlan, Christopher, Christina and Unchalee

He read everything he could get his hands on, even the first three Harry Potter novels, and was a WWII history buff. His basement office was filled from floor to ceiling with tank, plane, and battleship models he planned to build after retirement. He was the undisputed, undefeated family trivial pursuit champion. None of us had any chance to beat him, even when we all played together against him (I've since taken the role of champion on).

After a 10 month fight against pancreatic cancer, he died at the age of 54. He never got to see me get married or know that Rainer is the guy that I'd end up with. I never got to hear the excitement he would have had to know that I'm now pregnant with his first grandchild. But at least I got the time with him that I did. I often have to remind myself that some people never get to know their dads.

My dad loved his garden and fish pond

He did meet Rainer once, however. The summer before he passed away, Rainer came up for a family dinner. He brought a bottle of good Riesling, and although my dad hadn't had any appetite for months, he ate the dinner and drank a glass of wine. I really wish Rainer had been able to get to know my dad better, cause I think my dad was a pretty special guy. You could always depend on him for whatever you needed, whether it was a laugh when you were sad, a talk when you were lonely, or being picked up from college in the middle of the night cause you were homesick.

People may have wondered why I never wrote anything for the 5th anniversary of September 11. That was because I spent most of the day on the phone with my dad, so my memory of 9-11 is tied to the memory of my dad, and it's still tough for me to think about. He worked in a building across the parking lot from the Pentagon. Although he'd been home for months, sick from cancer, he worried that some of his friends might have been in the section destroyed by the terrorists. He stayed on the phone much of the morning making sure that his people were all okay. It ends up that one very old friend of his was in the Pentagon, but luckily not in the affected section. He also comforted his secretary. Her aunt was a secretary in the section hit. After a few worried hours, they found out that she was not in her office at the time and survived unscathed.

Harlan entered the Hospice of Northern Virginia the night before he died. The hospice staff told us that no one had ever had as many visitors as my dad. He was loved by everyone who knew him and his friends and coworkers made a constant stream of visitors on his last day. They told us that the secretaries had worked out a visiting schedule and people came over from his office and the Pentagon in carloads of five and six at a time to say goodbye. I remember standing outside his room and crying with dozens of his male and female coworkers alike. I don't know why, but it's unbelievably heartbreaking to see 50 year old men, many of them former or current military men, breaking down into sobs.

We spread some of his ashes at the Tidal Basin

On that last day, he was also presented with the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. It is the highest civilian honor the Defense Department awards. He stayed aware of what was going on almost to the very end and was very proud when they came for the ceremony.

He died in the evening with his family surrounding him. I was holding his hand.

Some of his ashes are interred at the Columbarium in Arlington National Cemetery


Harlan M. Geyer Jr. - Of Oak Hill, VA. On Friday, November 2, 2001 at Hospice of Arlington. Beloved husband of Unchalee Geyer; father of Christina Lynn Geyer of Durham, NC, Christopher Eugene and Christian Alan Geyer, both of Richmond, VA; son of Harlan M. Geyer of Reston, VA; brother of Cherie Ann Geyer of Aliso Viejo, CA. Mr. Geyer was a Marine Combat Veteran of Vietnam and awarded the Distinguished Civilian Service Award. Service will be held on Sunday, November 4 at 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. at ADAMS-GREEN FUNERAL HOME, 721 Elden St, Herndon, VA. A graveside service will also be held at Arlington National Cemetery Columbarium on Tuesday, November 20 at 1 p.m. (Please assemble at 12:30 p.m. at the Administration Building). In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in his name to Hospice of Northern Virginia or the American Cancer Society.

Source: Harlan M. Geyer, Jr., obituary, The Washington Post, 3 Nov 2001.


Harlan Martin Geyer, Jr.
9 May 1947 - 2 Nov 2001


Becky 6/16/2007 10:45 PM  

Christina, a wonderful and moving tribute to your father. It's sad that he died so young, but it seems like you had a very good relationship with your father.

On a lighter side, I'm wondering what significance there is, if any, in the names you and your brothers were given... Christina, Christopher, and Christian. Were any of you called Chris?

Christina G 6/17/2007 2:02 PM  

@Becky: We did have a wonderful relationship, for which I know I'm very lucky. As for our names, there's no significance beyond that my parents liked the name Chris. My brother both went (and still go) by Chris, and for some time, I had a few friends who called me Chris also. Needless to say, it could get very confusing when people telephoned our house!

Janice 6/18/2007 9:40 PM  

Christina, what a lovely tribute to your father. Thank you for sharing him with your readers.


Christina G 6/19/2007 1:47 PM  

@janice: Thank you for reading and commenting!

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