Military service runs in Rick Khalar’s family. His father and most of his 12 uncles fought in World War II. They never wrote down their experiences, some declined to speak of them, and that family history was lost.
Khalar, a retired colonel who served 30 years in the U.S. Air Force, decided to write down his story.
“I wanted to leave history,” he said. ”And that’s what I did.”
“Khalar’s Dash,” published in December, encompasses a lifetime of activity, the dash between one man’s birth and death dates on a tombstone. It begins with Khalar’s childhood in Highland and ROTC experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. It ends with retirement opportunities -- aerial photo mapping and becoming the chief pilot for the University of Texas System.
Khalar moved to 32 countries and bombed three. He fought in four wars and flew 78 B-52 combat sorties, dropping just under 5,000 bombs. Lightning hit his plane four times; he landed a B-52 that was on fire.
When asked what his most challenging or important role was over the years, Khalar couldn't pin down a single one.
"The job you have is the most important," he said.
Scott Wangen of Ashland was an ROTC student with Khalar and served in the Air Force for 25 years. He said the book offers a fresh perspective, especially for people with no military experience
“It gives you a picture of what really went on, almost day by day, action by action,” Wangen said.
Khalar’s cousin, Ken O’Brien, said the book often puts readers in the driver’s seat with the author. It’s precise, he said, but jettisons most of the technical jargon so non-military people can understand it.
In addition to military details, the book also touches on trips, visits and friends. Khalar visited Omaha Beach, where his uncle landed on D-Day, rode in an Egyptian airliner cockpit and a fast-attack submarine. He was also chased by a car full of armed men in Lebanon.
There are dashes of humor and danger, all told with a personal touch.
The idea for the book came when Khalar was asked to write down a two-page summary of his service for an ROTC reunion in 2008. The story, on paper, looked surreal.
“I thought, ‘Holy crap, that was my life?’ And then I had the old ‘I can’t believe I’m still alive’ thought,” Khalar said. “History is more fascinating than fiction.”
O'Brien shared some of his own short stories with Khalar years later, and it inspired the veteran to write a full book. Luckily, he’d been meticulous in keeping track of his activities over the years.
“Whenever he had a copy of his orders or recall roster or something he had a three-hole punch, he’d just put it in a folder and kept it all,” Wangen said. “I can imagine he’s got a filing cabinet bulging with that stuff.”
Khalar's wife, Renee, wasn't surprised at any of the hair-raising events in the book. She said what impressed her was her husband's dedication. It took two years of daily writing and review to bring the book to publication.
When it initially came out on Amazon, the cost of the book was far more than Khalar had expected. He’s since pulled the book off Amazon and is selling it locally for half the price to make it available to family and friends.
“This is Highland history, Northwestern High School history, University of Wisconsin-Superior history,” Khalar said.
It even includes stories Khalar’s father shared with his son about his World War II experiences.
“Khalar’s Dash” is sold at the Imogene McGrath Library in Lake Nebagamon, Twin Gables Restaurant in Brule and the Richard I. Bong Veterans Historical Center in Superior.