Community Gems: Man who takes care of veteran burial sites says ‘I’ve been absolutely blessed.’

‘He does what he does because he is who he is,’ friend says of Harlow

Fairborn resident Henry Harlow is retired, but he knows he need never be bored.

Harlow, 66, stays busy in myriad ways. He tends to thousands of headstones, footstones and grave sites at Dayton National Cemetery and other area cemeteries, connecting families to those sites and preparing care packages for homeless veterans.

In fact, as a volunteer for families searching for loved ones’ burial sites, Harlow — a retired Air Force master sergeant —has over the years uploaded 21,666 photographs of grave site to the web site findagrave.com.

Harlow says he counted every one, and he acknowledges that it’s a lot of work. But he isn’t complaining.

“I’ve absolutely been blessed,” the Fairborn resident said in an interview. “I always have something to do.”

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Credit: JIM NOELKER

Chris Stanley, who leads the Fisher-Nightingale Houses, Inc. non-profit, nominated Harlow as a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

“He does what he does because he is who he is,” Stanley said of Harlow.

No single newspaper article could capture everything Harlow does. But Stanley pointed to his work in helping to restore the Hanoi Taxi, the C-141 cargo plane that repatriated American prisoners of war from North Vietnam in 1973.

Harlow was one of three people who worked to restore that plane to a “flying museum,” now housed at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, Stanley said.

“For that, I will be eternally grateful to him,” said David Dillon, a friend of Harlow’s, also a retired master sergeant, who served with him in the 445th Airlift Wing at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

Dillon, of Morrow, was a 445th crew chief who needed help in restoring the C-141 Starlifter and highligting its history. He asked Harlow to help him. Dillon said Harlow became the “driving force” in that project.

Stanley and Dillon also noted Harlow’s work with Junior ROTC cadets and students.

“He went in and he knocked those kids’ socks off,” Stanley said. “They were very thankful that they got to spend time with Henry.”

And Harlow regularly works as a “caretaker” of history, tending to gravesites and collecting memorabilia of those who were prisoners or war or missing in action, at his own expense, Stanley said.

Perhaps his biggest job these days: He visits and tends to burial sites of veterans all over the Miami Valley. The tasks may be humble — sweeping mowed grass away from flat footstones, planting flags and wreathes, photographing the sites — but those actions are appreciated, his friends say.

Most cemeteries have groundskeepers, of course, including the National Cemetery. But there is always work to be done, Harlow said. And there is a steady stream of people searching for photos of burial sites for various reasons, including those researching history and genealogy or families who return home after a funeral but before a head stone has been completed and placed.

“It covers the spectrum,” he said. “There are friends, there are people I’ve served with, there are family members’ friends who have asked me.”

“If the weather is good, I’m here every Saturday,” he said, referring to Dayton National Cemetery.

“He travels 50 miles away to do it, if someone makes a request of him,” Stanley said. “It became like a full-time job for him.”

“My estimation is he’s a very giving person, and he likes to do it behind the scenes, because he doesn’t like to get credit for it,” Dillon said.

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