By Bob McElroy IMCOMJanuary 15, 2020
FORT A.P. HILL, Virginia -- Richard Harris has never been afraid of hard work; it has defined his life from his early years working on the family farm, to driving a school bus while in high school to his service at Fort A.P. Hill since 1973.
Harris retired from civil service on Jan. 3, 2020 concluding a career he began as a temporary employee and finished as the Petroleum, Oils and Lubricants supervisor in the Directorate of Logistics.
Richard Harris was born at home in Caroline County, Virginia and still lives on the same land. The house in which he was born burned down in 1955 but his father built a new one that stands to this day.
Life wasn't easy for the Harris family back then, they worked hard to provide for themselves.
"We raised all of our crops, we had cows, chickens, grew the feed. We came up rough in that day," Harris said. "We killed squirrels, rabbits and hogs for the winter. We had 20 acres plus we used a friend's field-he had 10 acres-for hay."
Harris spent every day driving his father's 1937 McCormick-Deering 012 model tractor on the farm.
"He worked me to death on it when I was a kid. I wanted to get off of that thing so bad but my daddy told me 'You stay on it till sundown and then go see your girlfriend and then you make sure you be on that tractor by 7 o'clock the next morning. I don't care how long you see your girlfriend but you be on that tractor at 7 o'clock the next morning.'"
Harris said that sometimes he and his siblings were so tired from the day's work they'd go to bed before they finished their chores. His father made them get out of bed to finish before they slept.
He attended the Union High School in Bowling Green and drove a school bus while a student there. The school paid him half of what the adult drivers received because he was a student. On weekends he worked as a janitor.
"My daddy kept us busy so we'd stay out of trouble."
Harris graduated from Union High in 1968 and in 1969 was drafted into the Army. He completed basic and advanced individual training as an Infantryman at Fort Benning, Georgia and was assigned to Mannheim, West Germany. Although he'd been trained as an Infantryman in Germany he drove a truck picking up and delivering supplies.
"Sometimes we got paid and go out for 30 days; you'd take your C-Rats (Rations) and go," Harris said.
When he completed his Army service in 1971 Harris returned to Caroline County and worked at the Keller aluminum plant loading trucks. After a while his boss moved him into the office to work as a production scheduler. Although he worked long days doing paperwork, he liked it because it was a clean job, he worked inside and wore a suit and tie.
Harris stayed there until 1973 when he left for a summer job setting up General Purpose Medium tents at Fort A.P. Hill. The work was difficult, each six-man crew set up 12-15 tents per day in hot summer weather.
I told my girlfriend at the time, now my wife, that I wasn't going to do it long because it was hard swinging an eight or ten-pound sledge hammer all day long, he said. It got to 100 degrees sometimes.
He persevered because of an early lesson his father taught him.
"My daddy told me years ago if you're on a job, do the job, don't complain because it could be worse," he said.
Harris's hard work with the tent crew did not go unnoticed. His supervisor asked him if he wanted to be a bus driver because he was on time, reliable, got the job done. The next few years he returned as a truck driver and bus driver. He also supervised a tent crew for two summers.
In 1976 Harris's life changed dramatically. He got a year-round position in the POL section under John Fortune, he joined the Virginia Army National and became a volunteer fire fighter for the Frog Level, Virginia Fire Department.
And, in 1976 he married his girlfriend Fannie and they began a family, raising two boys.
When Harris began working at the A.P. Hill POL Section the fuel point was located on First Street not far from the current garrison headquarters. They parked their fuel trucks in a lot on A.P. Hill Drive where the Army Reserve Center is today. Crews picked up fuel from Yorktown, Virginia and Piney Point, Maryland.
"I'm the only one from the crew who could haul three loads of fuel a day from Yorktown," Harris said. "I'd leave A.P. Hill at 3 or 4 a.m. pick up a load at Yorktown, drive back, drop the trailer and go back down, pick up another, come back, drop that and pick up one more load. It was a long day."
Harris said the POL crews were especially busy during the summer when many National Guard and Reserve units did their annual training and needed a steady source of gasoline and diesel.
"We had pumps all over post, Archer, Rappahannock, Pender, Cook Camp Site, Mahone, Rhodes, we had fuel pumps all over, we had to take care of filling the tanks for the troops," he said. "That's how we worked years ago."
When the Defense Logistics Agency took over fuel for the installation they did away with the campsite tanks because they weren't using them enough, he said.
Harris became a permanent employee in 1983 and stayed in the POL Section. He's been the supervisor for the last seven years.
During his years in the National Guard Harris served first as an Ammunition Sergeant and later switched to Food Service. He served until 1994 when he retired as a Sgt. 1st Class.
He is now a lifetime member of the Frog Level Fire Department.
His two sons are grown men now; Richard, the oldest is an assistant supervisor with Public Utilities in Petersburg, Virginia, youngest son Michael lives and works in Richmond.
Harris and his wife have three grandchildren, the oldest is 19 and serves with the Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
"I tried to get him to join the Air Force, he didn't want to go there, he wanted to be a Marine," Harris said with a laugh.
They also have a seven-year old granddaughter and six-year old grandson in Richmond.
As he looked back at his career at Fort A.P. Hill Harris said he most enjoyed working with the troops.
"Here we believed in helping the troops, if they needed something we'd get it for them," Harris said.
Harris said he could have worked elsewhere but he enjoyed working at A.P. Hill and, more important, it was close to home, only 12 miles away.
Now that he's retired Harris said he'll stay busy. He may drive a tractor trailer and school bus a couple of days per week.
He still owns the first car he ever bought, a 1952 Chevrolet Deluxe two-door sedan. He bought it from a friend for $125 in 1965 and has had it since. He plans to work on it in retirement.
"I'm going to put a 350 engine it with a five or six speed manual transmission," Harris said. "I'm going to put AC (air conditioning) in it, I don't like it but my wife won't ride in a car without it."
Harris also enjoys working on old tractors--he owns his father's 1937 McCormick-Deering tractor. It's been in the family since 1963 and he plans to keep it running and looking good. He's taken it to fairs in the area and won several trophies.
"People ask me why I like the old stuff, it's easy to work on."
When he's not working on his old vehicles or driving he'll spend time with his family. His wife already has plenty of "Honey do's" ready for him he said.
And even though he could sleep late he'll continue to rise every day at 5 or 5:30 a.m. because he's always been an early bird. If the weather is nice he'll sit outside for a bit.
"Sometimes I don't do anything, I just enjoy seeing the sun come up."