Veteran’s Day... paying it forward
By Beth Volpert
Harry Khachadourian was born in Palestine and his parents were from Turkey. Harry grew up as an Armenian Christian in a war-torn time and place. He spent many years moving from one “safe” place to another. His father and uncle owned a shoe factory in Palestine in the 1940’s and after the King David Hotel was bombed; Harry’s life began to resemble the movie “Exodus”.
The family lived in Lebanon, Amman, and then finally, Jerusalem before moving to Upstate New York. “We were so happy to be there,” says Harry. “Our sponsors prepared cheese sandwiches on American bread and served us cold milk; it was so strange to us, but we loved every bite.”
Having come from such a stressful upbringing, Harry, his brother, sister and parents set out to make America their true home. They got used to the new foods, the weather and the culture. In 1963, Harry moved to Chicago and then, in 1965, he joined the US Army. He trained as a helicopter maintenance technician and inspector with the 175th Helicopter Assault Company. “I would repair and then go up with the pilots on the test flights to make sure the helicopters were ready.”
Harry felt very strongly about “giving back” to the country that offered he and his family refuge from his war-torn home. “I joined the army, but I really wanted to go to Viet Nam,” says Harry. “It was important to me.” Harry finally got his wish with a tour of duty in 1971-1972. His company was known as the Outlaws. As the war came to an end, the Vietnamese military began to take over the use of the helicopters, but the nose cover of Outlaw 13 came home with Harry. “I have it in a shadow box and take it to our reunions,” says Harry. “One day, I will donate it to a museum, but for now, the men like to see it and talk about our time in Viet Nam.”
Harry credits his wife, Terry, with helping to find peace with the PTSD that he and so many of his fellow servicemen suffer from. “Terry is a nurse and she could see the suffering in me,” says Harry. “I sought help from the VA and now I am helping others.” Helping others is therapeutic for a man who says that there are things that veterans can never forget. “Talking to someone about it really helps.” Terry sees Harry as an everyday hero who gives selflessly. “I wanted people to see what he does for his fellow veterans,” says Terry. “Honoring his commitment is important to me.”
Harry spends time with veterans at retirement facilities and volunteers at Evercare, a hospice program. He knows firsthand how helpful it is to have someone listen to his own stories and this is just one more way that Harry can give back to the country he loves so much. Family friend, Cyndi Troutman, says, “The fact that Harry is active with the veterans in hospice care speaks volumes about his commitment to his country. He takes it very seriously.”
His advice to students who are considering the military includes taking the time to visit veterans and learn from their experiences. “It would mean the world to these guys if some of the JROTC students would come listen to their stories,” says Harry. “Both would benefit because these veterans have so much to offer future soldiers.”
PFC Austin Smith of the Grayson High School JROTC agrees with Harry. “In my opinion, spending time with veterans prepares us with a background you can’t get from a book,” says Austin. “I find their stories very interesting and am looking forward to the next time we visit the wounded veterans.” Austin and his fellow JROTC students have plans to serve veterans by visiting them and showing their respects for the sacrifices they have made for their country.
For Harry, continuing to serve the country he loves is his way of showing gratitude for finding a safe place to grow up. “This country means everything to me,” says Harry. “Working with veterans is as important to me as it is to them.” Making a difference, veteran to veteran, is the way Harry Khachadourian finds peace with the memories of being a child of war and of being a soldier. Gathering with his fellow veterans is a continual gift that Harry both gives and receives. Cherishing the USA as his home is the force that drives his service.