MARYVILLE, Mo. — With the wind outside whipping hard enough that it seemed even Old Glory herself was applauding in appreciation, veterans, their families and community members packed American Legion Post 100 in Maryville Monday to honor those who have worn the uniform.
Dr. Patrick Harr, who during his 38 years practicing medicine in Maryville has served as team physician to the Spoofhounds and Bearcats, is a member of numerous state and local halls of fame for his sports medicine work, was the keynote speaker at the event.
He also served in the Air Force from 1972-1974. Major Patrick B. Harr was in charge of outpatient services at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida before being honorably discharged. Harr said he volunteered for the Air Force because he wanted to finish his residency.
“At that time, in 1969, it didn’t make any difference who you were or where you were, if you didn’t volunteer, you were going to get drafted,” Harr said. “And I figured if I got drafted, I may not have a slot when I got back to continue my training.”
But most of all during his address, Harr expressed a deep discomfort with how many veterans have been treated once they’ve returned home.
“Veterans from World War I and World War II, when they came home, there were huge celebrations,” Harr said. “Not so much with the Korean veterans or the Vietnam veterans — that wasn’t the case.”
The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that of the just over 18 million veterans living in the country today, only a little more than 400,000 are veterans of World War II. And in 2016, for the first time, the Census Bureau tallied more Gulf War era veterans than any other group — more than 7 million — surpassing Vietnam veterans.
And because of that, Harr said, the face of the American veteran is changing too — along with their habits.
Harr’s “military hero,” he told the audience, was his father-in-law, Riley Towers, who served aboard the submarine U.S.S. Carp in the Pacific during World War II. After the war, Towers was an active member of the American Legion for 40 years, spending 25 as a commander.
“I’m worried about our veterans of our last, almost 20 years of conflict,” Harr said. “Because Generation X and millennials are not really people that join things. They don’t join the Legion, they don’t join the VFW.
“They are the masters of social media, and I don’t know if social media will provide them with the support they need to take care of the post-traumatic stress disorder that they’re going to face for the rest of their lives. Hopefully our medical community will be better equipped to take care of our veterans, because they deserve that so much.”
But the best start, Harr said, doesn’t fall to medical professionals, but to the civilians America’s veterans fought to protect.
“My plea would be, whenever you see a veteran, wherever you are, go up and tell them, ‘thank you for your service,’” he said. “It might feel a little repetitive to you, but, for that veteran, that might be the first time that they ever heard those five words.
“Maybe, if we do that, we can heal some of the wounds that our Vietnam vets, our Korean vets, had to endure.”