JOPLIN, Mo. — From the Vietnam War to the Joplin City Council to the final recognition of a military life lived, Bob Harrington has seen a lot, traveled thousands of miles, and still devotes himself to public service. We take a look at how his time in the military decades ago is still shaping his life.
“There’s about 1200 veterans and they’re spread all over the cemetery.”
And Bob Harrington would know. He serves in the Honor Guard for many military funerals, just one of many projects connected to his time in the Army.
“I got drafted. I volunteered for airborne Special Forces in the military and went through basic training, combat engineer training, jump school and then special forces.”
That was 1970, the start of what was supposed to be a career in the Army for Bob.
But that life plan didn’t pan out.
“Got my orders for Vietnam, two weeks before Crystal and I got married. We got married on the 27th of May. I graduated 2nd of June and the 5th of June, was in a severe accident and spent almost the next year in the hospital while they rebuilt my right leg and foot.”
His time in the Army ended in 1974, leading to a career in facilities management – everywhere from Park College in Kansas City to New York State. A path that would lead to a Joplin hospital in 1979.
“St. John’s recruited me to Joplin and I came down here and spent 20 years at St. John’s — last 12 as a vice president.”
Harrington would go on to tackle the physical plant at MSSU where they kept him very busy.
“By the time I left – been responsible for about $150 million worth of construction.”
Retirement led to a part time job in the front office of Soaring Heights Elementary and a long list of unpaid jobs.
“Currently the commander in American Legion Post 13 here in Joplin. I’m dressed like this because we just finished our 70th funeral that we’re doing for veterans so far this year.”
Harrington handles the retirement ceremony for American flags past their prime – and created the drop boxes as a way to collect those flags.
He also helps organize the Joplin Veterans’ Day parade and is active in local cemeteries.
“We put the flags and the wreaths on graves in Peace Church as well as out here at Mount Hope. So we do a lot of service, service projects around the community. And our motto is words veterans continuing to serve.”
Harrington served on the Joplin city council and is on the board of directors for the Civil War Rader Farm just north of Joplin.
“I end up doing a lot of work out there myself because I love doing that kind of work anyway.”
Part of a service ethic that Bob Harrington says always plays some role in his life. A lesson learned in the Army that he follows to this day.
“My goal was make a career out of it. And if I hadn’t tore my leg up, I would have done that. I enjoyed it that much,” said Harrington.