Oswald "Ossie" Langfelder was born in Austria in 1926 to a Lutheran mother and a Jewish father. In 1938, the family fled Nazi persecution, passing through Switzerland on their way to England. By 1940 the family emigrated to the United States, first to Chicago, but finally settling in Springfield, Illinois. Ossie finished high school there, then enlisted in the U.S. Army. His wartime experiences include occupation duty in Japan. He served as the mayor of Springfield from 1987 to 1995.