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At 97, Harrer Is Sr. Legionnaire of Year

Utican Is World-Wide Traveler
and World War II Veteran

Utica Post 229 member George Harrer of Utica is the Oneida County Senior Legionnaire of the Year. He was honored at the September general membership meeting, where Commander Tony Palladino presented the award on behalf of Oneida County American Legion.

George HarrerThe award recognizes Harrer, 97, as the oldest living Legionnaire in the county. In addition to being active in the Legion, Harrer has been an active traveler, even self-publishing a travel autobiography, “Horses to Uno: 70 Years of Word Wide Travel.”

This penchant for travel and writing seems to run in the family. A distant relative, Heinrich Harrer, was the Austrian mountain climber who became a tutor and friend to the Dalai Lama just before China's takeover of Tibet. Heinrich’s 1953 autobiography, “Seven Years in Tibet,” propelled him to worldwide fame and was made into a movie in 1997 starring Brad Pitt.

George made his first trip around the world before World War II –traveling by train, and even bicycle, through China, India and Egypt (where he slept outside next to the Sphinx) and across Europe, even Nazi Germany. It was during that Nazi era when in 1938 his relative Heinrich became one of the first to climb the formidable north face of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps.

Heinrich, who died in 2006 at 93, spent much of his life promoting the cause of the Tibetan people. As it turns out, George notes, his daughter, Jane Clemmons, and her husband also have been helping the Tibetans -- by printing documents and books for them that pre-date China’s takeover of their country.

Unlike Heinrich, who regretted having joined the Nazi party in his youth, George is a native Utican who served as a personnel specialist with the U.S. Army and then the Army Air Corps (which became the U.S. Air Force). He wanted to fly, George relates, but they wouldn’t let him because of his poor eyesight. After the war, he achieved his dream, earning a pilot’s license on the GI Bill.

George’s grandfather, Charles, fled Germany as a boy to avoid serving in the Kaiser’s army and came to Utica where his brother was living. This brother, George’s great uncle Bill, also wrote a book, “With Drum and Gun and ’61,” about his experience in the Civil War, starting out as a drummer boy and working his way up to the rank of captain. George’s father, Garfield Harrer, volunteered for the Spanish-American War, serving in the Philippines in 1898.

George and his family were treated to dinner at the post in conjunction with the award presentation.

Even though “all my friends are dead and I don’t have anyone to talk to anymore,” he says he’s still an optimist.

“We went to the opera at Glimmer Glass this summer and I had to climb the stairs to the balcony with a cane and a bum leg. That’s what I call an optimist!”

Other highlights of general membership meeting on Sept. 2:

The post honored long-time member Walter Fisher with a life membership in the Legion.

Walter Fisher
Walter Fisher

Prior to the meeting, Oneida County Clerk Sandra DePerno and Deputy Clerk Brenda Breen signed up and made discount cards for 19 veterans. The cards, which are good at a number of local stores and restaurants, are available to veterans who file their DD 214 with the county.

DePerno, whose parents were both War World II veterans, said that since July 1, they’ve signed up nearly 1,200 veterans for discount cards.

They plan to be at the post again on Monday, Nov. 8, from 3:30 to 6 p.m.

Sandy DePerno
County Clerk Sandy DePerno