Being born at the end of World War I and just before the Great Depression, one could say that Harlan’s life is full of history.
What’s your birthday wish? In 2019, Harlan Plummer wanted his face on a Smucker’s jar, and that’s exactly what he got. But when you reach 100, you pretty much get whatever you want.
In December 2021, Harlan will be celebrating his 102nd birthday. He was born on December 15, 1919, in Reading, Ohio, to Walter and Jessie Plummer. Being born at the end of World War I and just before the Great Depression, one could say that Harlan’s life is full of history.
Harlan remembers the day the banks closed; his mother wouldn’t let him go outside because of the chaos in the streets. His family went from being financially stable with a nice house and new car to not having a place to call home in just a few months’ time. The family began moving every couple of months for his father to find work. Harlan eventually dropped out of school in the seventh grade to get a job and help support his family.
In 1939 the United States entered World War II and in 1940, Harlan decided it was time to settle down and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps. In training camp, he learned the importance of doing what he was told. It took Harlan five years to adapt to military life because he didn’t like to be told what to do.
Since he was married, Harlan lived off base and didn’t have to live in the barracks. He recalls the food being very good. He attributes this to the fact that he was raised during the Depression and he wasn’t used to having three meals a day. Also like the Depression, supplies were scarce during World War II. Drills and trainings were conducted with wooden guns, soldiers took up streetcar tracks to help with the steel shortage and everything was rationed.
During his 27 years of military service, Harlan was stationed in Alaska, Canada and the Pacific Theater during WWII; Seoul, Korea during the Korean War; and Da Nang, Vietnam during the Vietnam War while assigned to the Marines on classified orders.
According to Harlan, staying in the service was the best decision he ever made. He knew he had a job to do, and he worked until the job was done. Most of his military career he performed special assignments and helped conduct tests. While on one of his last assignments he suffered frostbite from his knees to his ankles which caused his unsolicited medical discharge in 1968 during the Vietnam War. He retired with the rank of E-8, a Master Sergeant.
After his discharge, Harlan returned home from Vietnam on a civilian flight that landed at the Los Angeles International Airport. He travelled in civilian clothes and was told not put on his uniform. There were seven sailors on that flight with him all in uniform who were told to stay on the airplane until the crowd outside the gate thinned out. This was to protect the sailors from protesters of the Vietnam War that would throw eggs and other things at servicemembers as they returned home. Witnessing these actions was, and still is, very upsetting to Harlan as he doesn’t understand how Americans could turn on their own. He believes in the military and the protection they provide from the National Guard and Coast Guard to the Army and Marine Corp.
His family and friends had the exact opposite reaction to his return home, he was welcomed and seen as a hero. Of course, Harlan doesn’t believe he is any kind of hero, serving in the military was a job and he enjoyed it. Even to this day, he’ll tell you that he wishes he’d get drafted tomorrow.
The military taught Harlan many great life lessons. Lessons like “don’t waste time”, “get all the knowledge you can” and “you will be in training your entire life”. Probably the most influential life lesson that Harlan learned was that you never know what will happen so live every day to help others.
A reflection of this belief can be seen in Harlan’s longtime membership in the DAV Chapter 71, his service as a volunteer at the Chillicothe VA Medical Center for 35 years and the fact that he has racked up 11,012 volunteer hours. During his service to others, he has been an inspiration and example for many.
“Mr. Plummer's enthusiasm and attitude are his contagious benefactors that stream throughout the staff and volunteers at the VA. His effort to maintain perfect attendance is extremely encouraging to others despite his physical disabilities, his age, and his travel distance which hinder other volunteers.” said Jamie Russell, Voluntary Specialist at the Chillicothe VA, “Harlan has been an absolute blessing to the Chillicothe VA Medical Center for over 35 years.”
Thank you, Harlan for your service to our country and the Veterans at the Chillicothe VA. May you have a blessed 102 birthday!
A video of Harlan Plummer’s 2016 Veterans History Project interview, along with other Veterans across the nation, can be found on the Library of Congress website: www.loc.gov/vets/
To learn more about the Chillicothe VAMC, visit our webpage https://www.va.gov/chillicothe-health-care/, follow us on Facebook (facebook.com/ChillicotheVAMC) and Twitter (@chillicothevamc).
Veterans not enrolled in the VA healthcare system are encouraged to visit www.chillicothe.va.gov/enrollment.asp to register or call 740-772-7170 with questions.