For a fellow with a sunny outlook on life, Maj. Gen. Edward Binder had witnessed his share of carnage.
During a 40-year military career spent mostly with the Nebraska National Guard, Binder saw combat casualties in World War II and the aftermath of almost every big fire, flood, plane crash and tornado to hit the Cornhusker State from the 1950s to the 1980s. He developed a knack for cleaning up after disasters.
“He became the guy who, when the tornadoes hit, he was sent. Often when they were still on the ground, he’d already be on the way,” said his son, Gary Binder, 67, of Waverly, Nebraska.
Binder started as an enlisted infantryman and rose up through the ranks to serve as adjutant general, the state’s highest-ranking military officer, from 1977 to 1983. In that job, he met with President Jimmy Carter and showed him around Grand Island after a cluster of tornadoes devastated that city in June 1980.
Binder died Monday at his home in Lincoln. He was 95.
Born Aug. 11, 1923, Binder was an only child of parents who struggled through the Great Depression. As a boy in Omaha, he helped his grandfather deliver ice from a wagon in the summer and coal in the winter.
He graduated from Omaha Central High School in 1941 and enlisted in the Army after spending two years at a military academy in Missouri.
He trained for the infantry and was sent to Europe in late 1944. He served in a corps-level staff position that took him to France, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
Discharged as a sergeant in 1946, Binder returned to Omaha. Through mutual friends, he met Roma Chilcott, who became his wife. They went on to raise two children, Gary and Nancy, and were married 50 years. She died in 1997.
For a time after World War II, he sold cars. His genial personality led him into Chamber of Commerce work in Colorado, and later New Mexico. After his commissioning as an officer in 1948, Binder spent time in the National Guard forces of those states.
He returned to Omaha’s Benson neighborhood two years later and began a steady rise through the ranks of the Nebraska Army National Guard. He studied artillery, ordnance, radar and communications and became the state’s senior maintenance officer.
A series of National Guard leaders sent Binder to disaster sites because, Gary Binder said, he could instantly assess what the Guard needed to send. Then he would get it there.
In the early 1970s, Binder was the state director of the Selective Service, the agency that drafted young men for military service. The draft was abolished in 1975, and he described himself to a World-Herald reporter as the “last lonesome survivor” when the agency closed its doors Sept. 1, 1976.
He wasn’t unemployed for long. Although Binder had been a colonel less than three months, Gov. J. James Exon appointed him adjutant general Jan. 1, 1977.
Roger Lempke, an adjutant general in the 2000s, said Binder was “a kind and considerate leader” who shepherded the Nebraska Guard through a critical period after the Vietnam War.
After his retirement in 1983, Binder became active in the American Legion and was eventually selected as the state commander. For years, he manned the information desk at the City/County Building in Lincoln.
“Everybody knew him,” Gary Binder said. “They’d say, ‘Hi, General, how are you doing?’ ”
He was active with the Shriners, the Masons and Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln, where he was a member for 60 years. He kept busy with remodeling and woodwork.
“He was a doer,” his son said.
In 2016, Binder received a guided tour of the new National Guard Museum in Seward from the current adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac.
“It was very clear to me how much he loved the Guard,” Bohac said in an email from Asia, where he is visiting deployed troops. “I relied on him for guidance and counsel.”
Binder lived independently and was in good health until very recently, his son said. He enjoyed spending time with his two children, three grandsons and six great-grandchildren.
Services will be 11 a.m. Monday at Grace Lutheran Church in Lincoln. Burial, with military honors, will follow at 2 p.m. at Lincoln Memorial Park.