Bill Binger III, U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, Isanti County
Today, as he has for most of his life, MFU member Bill Binger III is farming near Cambridge, Isanti County.
He’s also experienced -65 degree temperatures in Alaska, a month in Death Valley, submarine training in Hawai’i, guerilla warfare training in the Philippines and a staredown in Korea. All of this was part of his time serving with the United States Marine Corps during the era of the Vietnam War. He was deployed to Vietnam for 33 months in the early part of the war and later to the 38th parallel in Korea with the Minnesota National Guard.
“I was (in Vietnam) in 1961-63,” Binger said. “Our main role was reconnaissance, getting prisoners of war, downed pilots. We brought the last Americans out of Laos.”
The son of family farmers, Binger joined the Marines soon after graduating from high school.
“I checked the drafting, and my number was pretty close, so I went in to get it over with so I could come back and farm,” he said.
His plan worked out. After his deployment, he returned to the family farm and worked with his dad, while also doing work in construction. His leaving had prompted the family to make some tough changes on the farm.
“The first letter I got from my mother in boot camp was that Dad got a milking machine the day I was gone,” Binger said with a laugh. “I didn’t even know how to use a milk machine.”
Binger said he would milk 10 cows morning and night, and his football coach would help them out unloading corn and doing chores so Binger could make it to football games. The family also had a year-round hog farrowing operation and about 400 chickens.
Now Binger farms on 40 acres a few miles from where he grew up, growing corn, soybeans and hay and raising sheep and a few steers and heifers. His son Bill IV farms with him.
Another part of Binger’s cold weather training was on Mt. Fuji in Japan. On his days off, he got to check out their agricultural operations.
“In Japan, years ago they bought some of our very best bulls, and those dairy herds were phenomenal,” he said. “In Hawai’i, Ron (Hauglie, the late former MFU Field Services Director) happened to be stationed there… We spent two days just looking at girls. That was all Holstein cows.”
Though he said he’s lost track of those he served with, Binger recalled a couple other farmers he met.
“There was a guy from Kentucky who had registered Jerseys and raised tobacco,” he said. “And there was another one from Willmar who… had to plow with two tractors, 24 hours a day.”
When asked about what he would say to veterans today who want to begin farming, Binger said it would be “pretty tough going because everything costs so much.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re in livestock or cash crops,” he said. “It’s all tough. It’s too bad we don’t have as many family farms. In 1990, on our census, Isanti County had 126 dairy farms. Now we’re down to four.”
That’s not to say that those who want to farm should give up on the goal. The United States Department of Agriculture offers several resources for veterans looking to farm, including the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance to Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program. And the GI Bill allows for registered apprenticeships for veterans through the U.S. Department of Labor. For more information, go to httpss://www.nal.usda.gov/veteran-programs-and-resources.
Committed to veterans and farmers
Binger has been part of MFU has long as he can remember. He lives near former MFU Vice President Dennis Sjodin, who encouraged him to get involved. He was also close with Hauglie, having shown cattle against him when they were young and served in the military at the same time.
Supporting veterans is another big part of his life. Binger flies an American flag and a POW-MIA flag in front of his house. He’s been the commander of the Cambridge American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter, all-state commander twice, POW-MIA chairman of the 7th District VFW, and is part of a disabled veterans group. For 50 years, he has been part of the color guard for veteran funerals.
“A lot of guys don’t want to do the funerals anymore,” Binger said. “I always figured, someone’s got to do it. I’ve probably done about 400 funerals. The worst thing is, you don’t know 99 percent of them.”
We thank Bill Binger and all veterans for their service and sacrifice.