Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Harry “Drew” McFarland graduated from high school in 1978 and worked a short time in the steel mill before the steel industry collapsed. With nowhere else to turn, he enlisted in the U.S. Army as an engineer from 1979 to 1983.
Military drafting was ended by June 1, 1973, McFarland states, so he and his fellow recruits had joined voluntarily. June this year marks 48 years of the military running on volunteer service.
“My MOS – military occupational specialty – was a carpenter-masonry specialist,” he says. “When I went to AIT (advanced individual training), I learned how to be a carpenter. When I got to my unit, it was the 497th Engineer Company … I didn’t build anything except for I drove a boat. We did build piers and stuff like that which was quiet interesting, but I didn’t get skills on how to build a house or anything like that.”
McFarland was stationed at Fort Eustis, Va., where he spent the duration of his peacetime service.
“It made me grow up quite a bit, from being a boy to being a very dedicated individual. I learned a lot from some great NCOs (non-commissioned officer) and great officers. I learned a lot more from bad NCOs and bad officers,” he says with a chuckle.
While working with a boat, he incurred a severe crush injury when an anchor fell on his foot. His last year in the army was largely spent in the hospital and on crutches.
The bad times tend to outlast the good times in memory, but he still appreciates his time in the military. He developed some great friendships and great memories.
“I wish we had Facebook back then,” he says. “All we had was an address book and people move. I was able to find quite a few of my buddies that I served with through Facebook and reconnected years later.”
While living as a civilian, he would eventually join the American Legion Post 55 in Buena Vista and serve as a Legion Rider. The Legion Riders promote the American Legion by driving their motorcycles in events such as parades, and they provide honorable escorts for the funeral processions of deceased veterans.
After retiring 2 years ago, McFarland became a DAV (disabled American veteran) driver for Chaffee County to keep himself busy. This program, consisting of 20 drivers in Chaffee County, is overseen by Jan Wilson, Veterans Service Office transportation coordinator. After being contacted about appointments, drivers go to the veterans’ houses for pickup and take them straight to their appointments.
“I love it. I get to know the old veterans and a couple young ones I drove,” McFarland says. “I love being around them. Pretty much the same mindset, same training. Doesn’t matter Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force. We all have the same thoughts that we focus in on: Patriotism, all-Americanism, stuff like that. And the stories. The stories from the old vets are awesome.”
He has driven to multiple locations such as Denver, Colorado Springs and Pueblo, that latter being his farthest trip. He drove quite often before the COVID-19 pandemic, but afterward the service tapered back.
“It seems like right now we’re starting to get momentum again. I think I did four in the last 2 months, maybe five,” he says.
Those who would like to arrange a DAV ride should call Wilson at 719-539-3803.
Having learned so much in the military, McFarland recommends the experience to anyone else considering it, not just for gaining skills for future careers but for life lessons in general.
“With our economy, the way it is right now, it’s a really good opportunity to learn,” he says. “My daughter (Brook) is a Marine. She went in from Chaffee, graduated a year early to join. She was missing a couple credits and I went and talked to the principal. He saw where I was coming from and said there was nothing they could teach her in that school that she wouldn’t learn tenfold there, especially discipline. It’s really great. … It gives you focus. It makes you not be the stupid kid you were in high school, kind of brings you into the real world.”