Waterloo family came "from Russia with love" -for America

Posted by Pat Kinney on Wednesday, April 24, 2019

CEDAR FALLS – The Puhl family of Waterloo can trace its roots to one of the most repressed countries on the earth. Their ancestors came to America. And Waterloo. They have served our country generation after generation.

Luanne Puhl of Cedar Falls shows off her father Andrew Puhl’s World War II duffel bag and family photos and memorabila. Her grandparents were Volga Germans who came from Russia to Waterloo. Eighteen family members have served in various branches of the U.S. military over multiple generations.

No less than 18 members of the family have served in the military over multiple generations. For that reason, the Puhl family is the recipient of this year’s Sullivan Brothers Military Family award from the Grout Museum District.

Jacob and Appalonia (Helen) Puhl came to America from tsarist Russia in 1910, eventually joining extended family in Waterloo. Their first son died in Russia. Seven more children were born in America. Thirty years after arriving here, they would have six sons serving the United States in uniform during World War II.

One of their sons, Paul, was in at the very beginning. He joined the Navy in early 1941 and was wounded in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that plunged America into the war. He served in 11 different battles in the Pacific against the Japanese and was in the Navy 20 years.

Ironically, his father, the Russian-born family patriarch Jacob Puhl, also fought against Japan, serving with the Russian army in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. He, too, was wounded in a Japanese artillery barrage in a battle in Manchuria. While that was a war of empire and territory, his sons would fight in a war for freedom against the Axis powers.

In another twist, although the Puhl family came to America from Russia, they were actually of German ancestry. They were Volga Germans – part of a group of ethnic Germans who settled along the Volga River in Russia during the time of German-born tsarina Catherine the Great in the 18th century, retaining German culture, language and Catholic faith.


Luanne Puhl, center, is show here with her parents, Andrew and Marlys Puhl, during World War II. Andrew served in the U.S. Army medical corps during the Battle of the Bulge. Marlys worked at Powers Manufacturing in Waterloo, which made officers’ uniforms.

Jacob and Appolonia (Helen) Puhl came to the United States from the Volga region of Russia in 1910. Ethnic Germans, six of their sons would serve in the U.S. military during World War II No less than 18 family members would served over multiple generations. Jacob served in the Russian army during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904.

Jacob and Helen Puhl’s decision to move their family to America proved fortuitous. In 1942, Soviet premier Josef Stalin sent nearly all the Volga Germans to forced labor camps run by his secret police, the NKVD. Stalin feared the ethnic Germans would side with Hitler’s troops as they invaded the USSR.

The opposite occurred within the Puhl  family in America.  Another of Jacob’s and Helen’s sons, Andrew Puhl , joined the fight against the Nazis. He served in the U.S. Army medical corps in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. Another brother, Edward Puhl, who served as an Army military policeman in France and Austria.

Two other brothers joined Paul in the fight against the Japanese empire. Brother Joe Puhl served in the U.S. Marine Corps at Iwo Jima and Guam. James “Jake” Puhl served on the aircraft carrier USS Antietam, in the Pacific at war’s end. The sixth brother, Peter Puhl, was an instructor in Army camps stateside.

The Puhls, like the Sullivan family, attended St. Mary’s Catholic Church and school in Waterloo along with the five Sullivan brothers and their sister, Genevieve. It was at St. Mary’s the Puhl children learned English. Like their parents, they spoke German at home. But the entire family supported the American war effort in uniform and at home.

Andrew and Marlys Puhl’s daughter Luanne, born during the war, writes, “On the home front my mother and my aunts cared for their homes, their children and worked in the factories supporting the war effort.” Jake’s wife Mildred worked at Associated Manufacturing, producing munitions, and Marlys Puhl worked at Powers Manufacturing, making uniforms.

The Puhl family’s service did not end with World War II. The next generation continued to serve through the Korean, Cold War and Vietnam eras. Navy veteran Jake Puhl and defense plant worker Mildred had seven children. Two of their sons and four of their sons in law would serve in the military in the Army, Navy and Air Force. His sons James Jr. and Doug served in the Navy and Air Force respectively. Two sons in law, Bill Crinigan and Dennis Heiser served in the Army; two others, Jerry Steiner and Cleo Floyd, served in the Navy. Additionally, Jake’s only sister, Ann Johnson, and husband Harm had a son, Lawrence, who served a career in the Navy. Jake’s and Ann’s brother Joseph had a son, William, who followed his dad’s footsteps and served in the Marines from 1958 to 1963
Furthermore, three of Jake’s grandsons -  David Floyd, Scott Floyd and James Heiser and two great-grandsons, Luke Miller and Conner Friedly - all served collectively from the late 1970s through the present, most of them in the Iowa Army National Guard. James Heiser is still in the Guard and has more than 30 years of military service.

The Puhl family will be honored on May 4 at the Museum's annual fundraiser, "Night at the Museum: Racing for the Veterans." Tickets are available for purchase here.

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