Sunday, December 20, 2015

Day Seventy-One. Influence: Larry E. Harry

Nothing if not rigid in his military bearing—in the slightly puckish way we were before our nation made the error of shifting from the citizen-soldier to the warrior ethos—retired Air Force Colonel Larry E. Harry was dead set on righting a wrong.

Cheated of glory

As enlisted airmen in Korea in 1960, the Air Force had issued Joe Fives and me mimeographed orders for the Good Conduct Medal. That's the one you get for three years of not being caught. At the time of my discharge in August 1960, it was the only gong for which I was eligible, although a couple of later ribbons for service in Korea were made retroactive.

The thing is, they never actually gave us the medal. As a fellow enlisted airman, Larry had had the Good Conduct Medal pinned ceremoniously upon his breast by a commander. The medal is not given to officers from whom good conduct is assumed and goes unrecognized. The government had given orders to Fives and me, but not the actual medal. It was as if the medal never existed,

In a new century, in 2001 Larry purchased two examples of the medal at a base exchange clothing sales outlet. All of us carried a Libertarian streak: If the government wouldn't give it to us, Larry Harry would. Who had better creds?

The location was Joe's home on Ralston Lane in Redondo California. The ceremony began.

"Attention to orders!" Harry commanded. Joe's wife Penny and white sitsu, Sniffy were the audience. We were wearing jeans and tennis shoes.

"I hereby present these medals!" proclaimed Larry in a voice so authoritative it snapped Sniffy into a stiff posture of attention.

Now, that is so small thing, Sniffy was not easily riled but, like Larry, he believed that injustice must be rooted out at all levels.

In Korea

Larry was in K-9-11, the Korean language class behind mine in Monterey (1957-58), but reached Korea before I did. He became a skilled analyst on the North Korean tactical air problem and on what some were calling the Reconnaissance War. On June 1, 1959, we monitored North Korean MiG-17 fighters as they engaged a Navy P4M-1Q Mercator radar reconnaissance aircraft over the Sea of Japan. The crew survived with one wounded. The co-pilot of the P4M-1Q was Vincent Anania, father of a future American political wife, Elizabeth Edwards (July 3, 1949—December 7, 2010).

After my military service and during a break in Larry's, I gave up a  job with the Sherwin Williams Paint Company — $275.00 per month for a five-and-one-half day week‚ mixing paints for retail customers at the the Woodward and Lothrop department store. Larry and I hitch-hiked from Washington to San Francisco. We were near Larry's Boonville, Indiana home when the second man in space, Gherman  Stephanovich Titov, proclaimed Soviet superiority by repeatedly broadcasting, "I am Eagle!" I think they gave him more than a Good Conduct Medal. Larry would later make a mark in the Air Force space community.

Larry had decided to get back into uniform in hope of marrying Lee Un Pa, who worked at the base exchange at Osan. He did. He produced a fine family with one son and two daughters, including Angela Harry, who enjoyed a Hollywood film career appearing alongside Pamela Anderson, among others. The marriage eventually led to divorce.

That summer we saw a lot of America in an era when the nation enjoyed regional differences and altitudes.

We remained best friends not because we'd served together in the past but because we found new experiences at every turn.

When I wrote an opinion column for Air Force Times, Larry always had his fingertips what troops were thinking—not a job at which top officers usually excel.

Big Loss

When Colonel Larry E. Harry died on February 4, 2002, the Air Force  lost a quiet hero. Larry, 63, and already a cancer survivor twice, was on a cruise ship near Noumea, New Caledonia when he succumbed to a heart attack just hours after dancing in the tropical moonlight.

He wore the Air Force uniform for nearly four decades. He never piloted a plane or fought a war. But Larry had an indelible impact on the way the Air Force buys those satellites that swirl after our heads. Near the end of his career, he was praised in a report at "a top acquisitions contracting professional and a superb leader:"

Larry Harry was born in 1938, the year before me. When he enlisted in 1957 as an E-1, he had not been to college for even a day. When he retired in 1987, he was a colonel with a master's decree. There were 6,479 colonels in the Air Force that year, but only 42 percent were neither pilots nor navigators. That was the kind of statistic the ever-precise Harry loved to keep in little notebooks. The aw-shucks Boonville farm boy-look hid a midwestern American tradition of loyalty to country. Larry lost an older brother at Tarawa.

Dick Ristaino spoke of Larry's "very, very smart" mind. "Because of his strong analytical ability, they put him in charge of our unit [in Korea]. He would sit, take notes, and reduce a complete situation."

Larry couldn't get enough of the Air Force. He enlisted again in 1961 and following officer training school he became a second lieutenant in 1967.

I've writing these memories of those who influenced my life on Day Seventy-One of my symptoms of a fatal, primary brain tumor. Watch for typos as I continue learning again how to type. Main photo shows Larry as an airman first class (E-4) in Korea in 1960, which was also my rank at the time. The trio is Robert F, Dorr, Larry E. Harry and Joe Fives following the decades-later ribbon award. Other photos show me with William T. Randol and Angela Harry at Larry's interment on March 15, 2002 at Fort Rosencrans National Cemetery, San Diego.

Who knows what I might have missed on the Sherwin-Williams corporate ladder. Larry E. Harry (October 18, 1938-February 4, 2002), you are an influence on my life.


  1. You are a wonderful author! Thank you for sharing.

  2. Bob, you are a champion, as we all know. Keep up the great work, we aer all pulling for you!

  3. Another great piece, my friend! I am enjoying every word and hear your voice! xo

  4. Bob, thank you for your 40+ year friendship with my dad. I pictured my dad as I drank in every word you wrote. I miss him every day. I see his quiet strength, sense of right/wrong, and his blue eyes in my 14 year old son, Will. And my 16 year old son, Cole, has his height, his smile, and his big heart. Thanks again, and I'm sending up prayers for you.