Robert Hauptli has no trouble preparing a meal for more than 100 people, but asking him to make supper for a family of five is actually a bit more of a challenge. For 22 years, the Town of Portland resident (located just outside of the city of Waterloo) helped feed troops going through basic training and members of the Wisconsin Army Reserves.
The 67-year-old can recall the day his number was called for the draft – Nov. 20, 1972. His number was 69.
“I had a number guaranteed to get me in,” said Hauptli, who grew up on a dairy farm in Reeseville and was a member of the last class to graduate from Lowell-Reeseville High School.
The veteran recalls getting on a bus in Beaver Dam that transported him to Milwaukee for induction into the military. There were also the 20-some shots necessary as part of the process.
“That’s when they had the air pistols for that and you’d just walk and doctors on either side of you, putting the needles into your arms,” Haputli said.
He attended eight weeks of basic training and eight weeks of advanced individual training (AIT) at Fort Wood in Missouri. The AIT involved the Portland resident attending cook school.
“They told me, ‘You go cook.’ When you were drafted, you didn’t have a choice of where you were sent,” Hauptli said.
He describes the basic training as very physical and the veteran had no idea what to expect.
“I was raised on a farm and going into a school of physical training,” Hauptli said. “Going to a place like that was a big change.”
During basic he was trained on how to shoot different weapons; prior to then, the Portland resident had never shot a gun.
There was also the need to adapt to sleeping in the same room with 29 other people. There were 30 troops per floor in a two-story building.
“You sleep at home in your own bed your whole life, and then you’re sleeping in a bedroom of 30 people,” Hauptli said. “And your social life changed.… It was a different style of life, that’s for sure.”
At the time, the military was actually pulling troops from Vietnam so after basic training Hauptli was stationed as a cook at Fort Polk in Louisiana where he was responsible for feeding the basic training brigades that came through the base. Hauptli eventually made the rank of mess sergeant at the base.
“There was no sense in sending me over when they were bringing people home,” he said. “When I saw people coming back, I was, I suppose, glad I didn’t have to go.”
Hauptli witnessed the effects war had on other members of the military.
“They were very skittish, the cooks that we got coming back from Vietnam, and shell-shocked,” the veteran said. “I saw some injured with a lot of shrapnel in them. They had been cooks over in Vietnam.”
When a tank would fire at the base, the troops who had returned from Vietnam would seek cover.
“I had to ask why they were doing it because I had no clue,” Hauptli said.
When stationed at the Louisiana base, the veteran was responsible for preparing the meat and gravy. He enjoyed cooking and fell right into his assignment.
The Reeseville native said it was a challenge to feed approximately 130 people at each meal. Every eight weeks, a new set of troops attending basic training would come through the mess hall.
“I was 20 years old, working on 21, and I saw what I’d call a lot of kids coming in,” Hauptli said. “Mostly younger, 18 or 19.”
He remembers when the military purchased an abundance of steaks during the early 1970s to help struggling farmers.
“These kids, they didn’t like steak… they were sick of it. We had to cook a lot of steaks and they wanted hamburgers,” Hauptli said with a laugh.
When his two-year draft enlistment ended Nov. 19, 1974, he returned home in search of employment. He didn’t anticipate he would devote the next 20 years of his life to the Wisconsin Army Reserves. The veteran received a call from the Madison unit at Truax Field and was invited to check it out.
“The mess sergeant was my English teacher from high school. He was drafted before that and I remember when he went to active duty up in Madison for the protests against the Vietnam War,” Hauptli said. “He went up there to cook for everyone.”
The Reeseville-native signed on for four years in order to get a total of six years of service. Then he reenlisted into the Army Reserves for another six years.
“And then I joined for another six, which gave me 18, and then I joined for another four years,” Hauptli said. “I just wanted to try for another four years, I just fell into that lifestyle. And the extra income was nice.”
During the 20 years with the reserves, he continued to serve as a cook and would spend one weekend a month and two consecutive weeks training each year until 2005.
“I missed a lot of social gatherings,” Hauptli recalls, noting his family — including wife, Debra, two sons and a daughter — moved to Portland in 1981.
Now retired after working 38 years at McKay Nursery, devotes time to landscaping his yard and the yard of the church he attends. For the past 36 years, has been an active member of the Waterloo American Legion Post 233 where several times a year, he returns to cooking for a large number of people. From October to April, the Legion hosts monthly community meals serving food to 125 to 150 people at each event.
“I have no problem cooking for that many people,” Haputli said, noting he joined the veterans’ organization when he was approached by a member.
He finds being part of the Waterloo Legion post helps him continue to serve his country by raising money for the youth of the community.
“That quote by (John) Kennedy, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,’ sticks in my head,” Hauptli said. “The Legion is a way to continue to serve and give back to the community.”