Larry Exner, a resident at Artman Lutheran Home in Ambler can tell you a lot about the weather. During World War II he was stationed at an Air Base just south of Oxford, England, where his job was to analyze the weather, determine if it was safe for flights to take off, and plan their safest route.
When World War II began, Larry was 24 years old and working in a chemistry lab, while studying chemical engineering at Drexel University. He had a deferral from the military because of his job, but wasn’t sure that chemical engineering was for him, so he volunteered to join the United States Army.
Larry took a train from Philadelphia to Los Angeles for training at UCLA, then was sent to Ohio for more training, then to Colorado Springs, and finally to New York City. Larry remembers that they were given a dollar a day for food, and that the train rides were long and miserable in the dead of winter. “It was freezing cold, and soot from the train would fly in through the windows,” he said. “My face and hair were completely black.”
From New York City, the soldiers traveled to England by boat. “I remember that I had a big box of Hershey chocolate, and I just lay on my back and ate chocolate bars the whole way there,” Larry said. “The boat was weaving all over the ocean to avoid submarines.”
Larry served overseas for the duration of World War II, and worked his way up through the ranks to Lieutenant Colonel. “I really learned a lot from it,” he said. Larry still has several maps from the war that he used to chart the weather. The maps show the location of ships, the planned courses of flights, clouds, wind and storm patterns, blue markings for cold fronts and red markings for warmer air. “I really cherish this one,” Larry said, displaying a particularly large map. “It shows the weather the whole way from Chicago to Germany. We did one of these every week. It sure was a lot of work.”
Larry’s proudest moment was when a Chief had to make an important flight to Germany, and Larry helped him to avoid storms and arrive safely and on time. “He came in to shake my hand and thank me. I felt really good about that,” Larry said.
When Larry returned from the war, he decided to go back to school at Temple for organic chemistry. “That’s where I met my wife,” he said. He graduated Cum Laude and went on to receive his master’s degree from Temple, at the encouragement of his wife Clara. Larry and Clara live together in a suite at Artman and recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary.