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Heroes Among Us: George Isler

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Published: Dec. 30, 2021 at 11:00 PM EST
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - Every month, WALB and Montlick and Associates join together to say thank you to a South Georgian who has served our country selflessly.

Albany native George Isler deployed to Vietnam in 1967.

“At 18, my first time really being out of the country and away from home, it was a mind-boggling experience,” Isler said. “The Marine Corps prepares you for a lot, but nothing prepares you for war.”

On and off the battlefield, he bonded with two fellow Marines: Bruce and Joel.

“We had so much in common,” he said. “We were all 18 or 19, long ways from home, in an environment that was very hostile, dangerous.”

They also all had sons who were two and under at the time.

“You ate together. You fought together. You slept together,” Isler said. “So, you have a tendency to talk openly with those people that have your life in their hands and you have their lives in your hands.”

Isler ended up serving 19 months total in Vietnam during two tours, but the psychological...
Isler ended up serving 19 months total in Vietnam during two tours, but the psychological effects of war and losing his best friends in battle lasted decades.(Merle Isler)

Knowing their lives were at risk, they wrote letters home, just in case, and kept them in their helmets.

The three of them made a deal.

“If something happened to one of us, whoever was there would go in the helmet, take the letter out and write home let them know what happened,” he said.

That day came sooner than Isler imagined.

“On September 13, 1967, we got hit with mortars and a morning raid,” Isler said. “Bruce was struck with shrapnel in the head. I was struck in the back.”

Isler survived, but Bruce passed away.

So, the third Marine in their trio made good on their pact.

“Joel wrote to Bruce and my homes,” he said. “My sister at the time was 12. That’s who Joel wrote to. That was the letter that I had in my helmet.”

They had no idea that was one of the last things Joel would do on earth.

“Joel was killed about nine days later,” Isler said. “So, before my sister received the letter telling her that I had been wounded, Joel had been killed. She literally received a letter from a dead man.”

Isler spent a year in the hospital back in the states recovering.

He ended up serving 19 months total in Vietnam during two tours, but the psychological effects of war and losing his best friends in battle lasted decades.

“I’ve always wanted to return the favor for Joel, but I never had the mindset to want to remember it,” he said. “I tried to just push the whole thing aside.”

That changed several months ago after he worked with the VA to cope with what happened in Vietnam.

“I decided to go to Arkansas and look for Joel’s gravesite, and in doing so, I found his son,” Isler said. “His name is Joe.”

Joe was around 3-months-old when his dad was killed in action.

He and George haven’t met in person, but they already have a special relationship.

Isler's wife, Merle, said he has put in a lot of work to process his trauma.
Isler's wife, Merle, said he has put in a lot of work to process his trauma.(WALB)

“Joe and I have been kinda tight. He called me ‘unc,’ and I gave him the bracelet with his dad’s name on it,” Isler said of the unique bond he developed with Joe. “He had not talked to anybody who actually served with his dad and could tell him what actually happened to his dad.”

“He was very thrilled to have George, someone that he felt, ‘you really knew my dad. Now, you can tell me more,’” Isler’s wife Merle said.

George bonded with his own son on the trip to Arkansas to find Joel’s grave.

“It was kind of enlightening for him to realize that his dad and this guy’s dad served together, and his dad was fortunate enough to come home, and this person’s dad wasn’t,” he explained.

George found Bruce’s grave in Florida several years ago and made contact with Bruce’s son as well.

They haven’t built the same relationship, but George remembers Bruce’s sacrifice daily.

“I wear this bracelet with his name and his kind of honor,” he said. “Naturally, I think that my name could be on one...My name would be on a bracelet and one of them could be sitting with their sons talking about the guy they knew named George.”

His wife said he has put in a lot of work to process his trauma.

“I think George actually felt a bit guilty that the friends were, both friends that he was most close to, were killed and then he was the only one that remained,” she said.

She doesn’t think he will ever get over what happened, but he’s moving forward while honoring the selflessness of his friends.

“He feels blessed that he’s able to be here and be with his son and all of this, you know where they didn’t get that opportunity,” Merle said.

If you know a current military member or veteran you want to nominate for “Heroes Among Us,” click here.

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