Harter regrets not re-enlisting in military

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Elaine Harter today. She is a proud veteran and serves on the local Color guard. (Linda Moody photo)

GREENVILLE—Elaine Harter served her country from December 1977 to February 1983 with the United States Air Force.

Why did she choose the military after her graduation from Greenville High School in 1977?

“I knew I didn’t want to go to college,” she responded. “And, I didn’t want to work in a factory so there was not much around Greenville.”

She had always thought about going in to nursing, and learned from her sister Patty’s sorority sister at Wittenberg that if she joined the Air Force she could go into nursing.

Elaine Harter is shown at her job at Pope Air Force Base. The one on the floor, she was a senior airman and the other, she was a sergeant. (Courtesy photos)

“I saw commercials and I always loved to travel and wanted to see the world,” said Elaine, who went into the Delayed Enlistment Program before she graduated. “I had a car and a part-time job and talked to the recruiter. It just happened.”

Basic training took place for six to eight weeks at Lackland Air Force Base (AFB) in San Antonio, Texas.

“While I was in the Air Force, I was guaranteed a job and I started out in accounting and finance,” she said. “I was transferred to a tech school Sheppard AFB in Wichita Falls, Texas. I did well, but didn’t like it.”

She then talked to a first sergeant who told her about an opening in medical administration at Lackland’s medical center.

“Lackland was a permanent site and it was huge. There was Wilford Hall Medical Center and I loved it there,” she said. “I started tech school and took all of the classes in aeromedical evacuation while on the job.”

She had to keep track of medical flights coming out of Kelly AFB.

Elaine Harter is shown at her job at Pope Air Force Base. The one on the floor, she was a senior airman and the other, she was a sergeant. (Courtesy photos)

“I had to take patients back to the hospital at the Sam Houston Brooke Army Center,” she said. “Some of the Beirut hostages came to these places.”

She drove the ambulance, transporting patients who were leaving the hospital and their luggage, she recalled. “I did that for two years. I wasn’t tall enough to drive a bus.”
Elaine was subsequently transferred to Pope AFB in Fayetteville, N.C.

“I loved North Carolina,” she said. “My first job was in medical records; it was boring, but I became the commander’s secretary for six months while she was on leave. Then, I went back to medical records.”

During her last year in the Air Force, she learned she couldn’t re-enlist under her current job title–medical administration–at the time.

“I would have to change jobs and I was given a year to do so, I picked electronics at Keesler AFB in Bixoli, Miss., and worked there for a three-month period,” Elaine said. “I was not into that either; so they let me go back to Fayetteville and I stayed there until I got out. There was nothing else there.”

Elaine said she is a veteran, but not a war veteran since she didn’t fight in any combat.

“The Vietnam War was over and I don’t remember any real threats,” she said. “And, we didn’t go to Grenada or Lebanon. In basic training, we had to do rifle training, but we didn’t go under barbed wire. But, I would do anything Uncle Sam would have me do.”

She does remember some war games featured one time at Fort Bragg.

“It was some kind of contingency,” Elaine explained. “I met people from a lot of other countries.”

The local veteran, who also got to witness an autopsy while in the military, went on, “I would do it all over again and would have stayed in, too. I always felt I could trust anybody I worked with. It was like a big family. We always worked well together on a mission.”

While in high school at Greenville, she was in the flag corps for one year and Wavettes her freshman through senior years. She was also a typist for the Wave newspaper, a member of Spanish club, and worked on the yearbook for a long time, noting that the Wavettes took up most of her time.

Perhaps, it was the reason she went to serve on the local Color Guard after she left the military.

“I am a 31-year member of the American Legion and have spent 30 years on the Color Guard,” she said. I love marching in parades.”

What is her advice to young women contemplating the military as their future?

“Things are different now, but do what you’re told and it will be just fine. And, stay in,” she advised. “I was raised with respect, morals and values. If not, the military will teach you.”

After her stint in the service, Elaine has held quite a few work assignments and odds and end jobs as she calls them.

She worked part-time at Grandview Hospital as the secretary in respiratory therapy and at Dettmer Hospital in Troy for eight to 10 years, serving as a podiatrist’s secretary in the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department.

She also worked for Continental Grain in Arcanum as a secretary until it closed its doors after which she went to work at the same company in Troy. She has also worked at GTI, Whirlpool, for the F.W. Myers Custom Brokerage Agency, for Speedway Northtown and Community Action Partnership.

“Now I’m semi-retired,” she said. “Next year I may get back into getting a job.”

She said she received two commendations while in the military, including recognition for an open house she organized at Pope AFB.

In addition to being a member of the American Legion and Color Guard, she is a lifetime member of the Amvets of Eldorado, a member of the Greenville VFW Auxiliary and the Moose and Eagles lodges. In her leisure time, she enjoys playing games on her phone, reading and spending time with family.

She chokes up when she talks about the family she loves. She, her daughter Nikki, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren as well as a brother, Bill, are the only ones left.

Her father, Denver Harter, was a Korean War veteran on the front line.

“He crossed the river at night to get a Korean rifle,” Elaine said. “There was a special bond between us. The first time I saw Dad with tears was when I went to the Air Force. He advised me not to volunteer for anything.”

Her father died on Aug. 14, 2002, at the age of 90, while her mother, Lenora (Daniel) Harter, died Jan. 3, 2020, at the age of 87.

To compound those losses, were the deaths of Elaine’s two sisters, Patty Bernhard on Oct. 21, 2019, at the age of 64 and Linda Wilson on April 18 this year at the age of 57.

“I have lots of great memories,” she said. “My daughter’s birth 43 years ago, the good people and times in the Air Force, and visiting Mexico one day while in San Antonio. Absolutely, I am proud of my service. Mom said one of the smartest things I did was join the military.”