Larry was born in Houtzdale, PA on September 14, 1939 as one of 12 children. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1957 when he was just 18 years old. Larry was assigned to the K-9 corps and traveled to England to work as a guard at RAF Bentwaters and RAF Woodbridge. His K-9 dog, a German Shepherd, was named Jessie. Larry reached the rank of airman first class.
It’s easy to just give the facts of a veteran’s time in the military, but there are always so many anecdotes between those facts. Larry has many stories from his time in the military that he shares with those around him: He still hates chicken because of how often it was served in the dining hall; he visited France and Spain while on leave; he was once bit so badly by one of the K-9 dogs in a training exercise that he had to go to the hospital; he worked long nights guarding top-secret locations; he lived in both cramped Quonset huts and roomy barracks; he even caught his commanding officer drunk one night – just to name a few.
When Larry was nearing the end of a tour of duty in England in August 1961, the Berlin Wall was going up in Germany, and all contracts were extended for six months because, as he explained, “Nobody knew what was really going to happen at the point – we could’ve gone to war.”
Larry decided to visit the Berlin Wall while on leave. When it was initially built, the wall was mostly fencing and barbed wire – not yet the sturdy concrete barrier that it was by the time it was demolished in 1989.
“When I visited the Wall, I got to talk to some of the American guards on duty there,” Larry remembered. “They told me that if I came back later that night I could talk to some of the East German guards through the fence, and I could bring something to throw over the wall to them.”
Larry returned that night and to talk to the guards about the wall, including how they had to shoot anyone who tried to cross the wall. He asked one guard if he would shoot his own brother if he tried to escape.
“I would have to,” the guard replied. “If I didn’t, the other guards would shoot me and my brother, and we would both die.”
Larry’s experience helped him to gain perspective on Berlin. “I felt bad for those people, but there wasn’t much I could do,” he remembered. Before leaving, he threw his gifts over to the guards: chocolate and American cigarettes.
After leaving the service, Larry lived in the Pittsburgh area and worked at PPG for 27 years.
“I never regretted my time in the military,” Larry said. “It was hard, but I got to experience a lot of different countries and cultures that I never could have otherwise. I learned a lot.”
While Veterans Day is an important day to set aside to honor veterans and their stories, they deserve respect every day of the year. Concordia salutes all veterans for their dedication and service to our country!
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