(L to R) Kevin Harry, Melissa Harry, Kenneth Harry & Mark Harry take a moment to visit the Johnson County Memorial Wall.Submitted photo.
By Jill Penley
While many Americans today have family members who once served or are currently serving in the armed forces, one Butler family has an entire group of active and retired military family members to recognize over 100 years of service to the United States Armed Services.William “Bill” Harry, who passed away in January 2018, served in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War and was an avid pilot. Returning to Michigan upon his discharge from the Marines, he worked for Ford Motor Company as a maintenance supervisor for 30 years before retiring to East Tennessee. Harry then co-owned and operated the Midway Marine & Campground at Watauga Lake for more than 30 years with his wife, Doris.
“Growing up around airplanes with my dad flying, I certainly had a fascination with them,” recalls Mark Harry, the eldest son of Bill and his first wife, Geree, who still resides in Johnson County. “When it came time to figure out what I wanted to do after high school, the desire to be around airplanes was my guide. Given that, and wanting to serve this country, that was my reasoning to join the Air Force.” Harry served in the U. S. Air Force for four years, from 1982 – 1986, before joining the U. S. Army in 1999 and serving until his retirement in 2017. Mark’s son, Keenan, is currently an Air Force recruiter stationed in Horseheads, NY.
Melissa was the second Harry sibling to go “from a kid to a member of the United States military,” as she recalls. “There is nothing compared to wearing the uniform. It’s in your heart.” Now, as a retired U. S. Air Force veteran, she proudly supports her three sons who also serve. “I now know how much my mother endured,” said Melissa, “with four of her children serving.”
She admits she gets extremely emotional when the National Anthem is played, observing the Color Guard, witnessing a promotion or retirement ceremony, listening to the 21-gun salute, or even just seeing a military aircraft. “These all happen because of someone who is serving or has served our country,” said Melissa, who is proud to be an American and a Veteran.
“We sacrifice so much, but so do our families. I am a retired veteran and now, but my three sons, Kipp, Keifer, and Kelby, are serving in the United States Air Force.” She is quick to point out that military families also serve, albeit in a different way. “They spend their days, holidays, and special events without their loved ones,” she said. “They are always in our hearts but so often not with us because they took that oath.”
After graduating from Johnson County High School, Kevin Harry wanted to “experience life a little more before attending college.” He acknowledges how daunting a career decision can be for a high school senior. “Deciding what you want to be can be a difficult decision to make for an 18-year-old, and I wanted more experience and travel before deciding,” he said. Since coming from a healthy military family, he naturally explored military options before settling on the U. S. Army. “My 32-year career in the U.S. Army started in Military Intelligence,” explained Harry, “but when my brother, Kenneth, was sent to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I decided to try out for Special Forces and complete training as a Special Forces Medical Sergeant.”
It was in that capacity that Harry received extensive training in Emergency Medicine, Tactical Trauma, Veterinary Medicine, Pharmacology, OB/GYN, and various other medical disciplines. Further training included Language School (Spanish and Haitian Creole), Airborne, Military Freefall, and Special Operations Combat Diver. This specialized training led to several deployments, including Haiti, Laos, Afghanistan, and Europe.
According to Harry, his deployments total over 50 countries. “As my career came to an end, I was humbled to have been able to serve this great country for 32 years alongside some of the greatest patriots I have ever met.” After retirement, Kevin remains actively involved with Veteran Support Organizations (VSO) and currently serves as the Special Forces Association National President.
Kenneth, the final sibling to enlist, says many factors went into his decision to join. “Things like having a lot of the family already serving; being from the ‘Volunteer’ State and the history of the Alamo and being proud of my country all went into my decision,” said Kenneth. “I was able to serve with the finest this nation had to offer. I was able to see the world and do things that I could never imagine was possible.” He highly recommends the military to students wishing to make a difference in the future.
While Keith, second to the eldest of the Harry siblings, made career decisions not involving military service, he continually supported his brothers and sister in their military endeavors. Melissa, Keith, and Kenneth reside in Johnson County. Kevin is currently renovating a home in Butler to move back to the area, and Mark has purchased property in Johnson County and plans to move back in the next 4-5 years.