To celebrate Black History Month, we’re spotlighting Jack Lary a VetAssist client and one of the few remaining African American veterans of the 25th Infantry Division who served during the Korean War. The Missouri Historical Society interviewed Lary in 2019 to collect the oral histories of St. Louis area veterans and their families for the city’s Soldiers Memorial Military Museum. Lary has also donated photos from his collection to the Missouri Historical Society. Having served on the St. Louis City’s Election Board, Jack Lary played a role in St. Louis history. Now in his nineties, Jack shares how he remains well-cared for and active.
Drafted into the Army
What is one of the first things Korean War Veteran, Jack Lary remembers about his time in the military? The needles he faced upon arriving at Camp Chaffee for basic training (bootcamp) in the early 1950s. Whether or not he fainted during the vaccination process is still debated. But, as a recently drafted soldier with the Army’s 25th Infantry Division, one thing was for sure. He had no idea what lay ahead of him.
Memories of the Korean War
Lary was deployed to Korea and spent nearly nine months there. The 25th Infantry Division was involved in the recapture of Yechon, which was considered the first sizable ground victory for the U.S. In fact, the Congressional Record and the press praised the African American soldiers citing, “First U.S. victory in Korea won by negro GIs.” His division was also a vital contributor to the decisive victory at Inchon, which led to the successful recapture of the South Korean capital.
While he may have expected the constant battles and never-ending soundtrack of war, there were a few things he was not prepared for. The bitter cold that took North Korea by surprise, and for which the Army was completely unprepared, is something Jack Lary will never forget. The Army lacked the appropriate gear to keep warm, and soldiers suffered for it. They were forced to build campfires out of anything they could get their hands on, including straw left near Korean rice paddies – until the enemy realized an opportunity and began booby-trapping the precious kindling with grenades. Frostbite was one of the biggest medical concerns during the first winter in Korea, with many soldiers losing fingers, toes, and ears to the cold.
Civilian Life and Business Career
The other thing that stuck with Jack Lary all these years – the suffering he witnessed. “I used to give my rations and fig cookies away to the kids,” says Lary. Perhaps one of the most difficult parts of war was not experienced on the frontlines, but upon returning home. After years spent observing suffering on a scale he hadn’t realized existed, Jack returned to a country full of fortunate souls, protected from that type of misery for nearly a century. Those surrounding him simply had no clue how lucky they were. “It was rough coming home,” he said. “It was rough coming back from Korea to that.”
In civilian life, he returned to school on the GI bill and was employed at the St. Louis Army Ammunition Plant, which produced small arms ammunition such as bullets. Lary’s job included shooting and checking bullets. After that, he worked at the Federal Reserve Bank. Eventually, he opened his own company, Lark Office Machines, with clients such as Boatmen’s Bank and Monsanto, two large employers instrumental in St. Louis history. That led him to become active in the Republican Party.
“The business got very high-tech. I couldn’t keep up with it, so I sold it to Cardinal Business,“ says Lary. From 2006 to 2015 at 84 years old, he served on the St. Louis Election Board.
Political Interests & St. Louis History
“I was appointed to the St. Louis Election Board by Republican Governor Matt Blunt,” says Lary. “Then when Jay Nixon, a democrat, became governor he appointed me too. I served on the board to do good for the City of St. Louis. I didn’t go to play politics and play games. I didn’t go to serve the Democrats or Republicans. I went to serve the people.”
Lary says these days our country is too polarized and divided by party lines. “I believe in America, not red states or blue states.” He says he watches ABC News every morning and has strong opinions of the January 6 riot at the Capitol. “Even though I’m a Republican, I believe Joe Biden won the election and Biden is my president. Most people only want to vote in presidential elections. People need to vote in state and local elections.”
American History Rather Than Black History
When asked about the importance of Black History Month, Lary was very clear. “I believe in America. Martin Luther King did a good job but no one taught people how to live as Americans. I don’t look at it as black and white. I’m American.”
Lary says he may have as many white friends as he has black. “I can call them and they’ll be here. I don’t believe in all this separation.”
Choosing the VetAssist Program
Lary says he can’t recall how he found out about the VetAssist Program, a service of Veterans Home Care. “I got glaucoma and had to stop driving. I like to prepare for the worse.” Realizing he needed help for daily activities, he turned to Lori Reams, Regional Manager at Veterans Home Care.
Veterans Home Care is a family-owned business that specializes in securing the VA Aid and Attendance benefit for veterans (or their surviving spouses) who wish to use the funds for in-home caregivers. Help with the VA application is free. Home care aides are billed at the local market rate but the cost is offset by the VA benefit. Home care service is received with no out-of-pocket costs.
Lary is routinely called by Jeremy Settlemyer, a navy veteran and case manager at Veterans Home Care. “I enjoy talking to Jeremy… he served on a submarine.” Jeremy assists clients with any letters they receive from the VA and helps them remain in compliance with their medical expenses to maintain the monthly monetary benefit.
Griswold Home Care
Veterans Home Care contracts with a network of providers such as Griswold Home Care of St. Charles. Lary now has a caregiver from Griswold who helps with personal care, household chores and transportation. “They’re doing a good job.” His caregiver drives him to the grocery store, or to the VA to see his doctor or to pick up his medicines.
Well Cared For and Enjoying Life
Between going to the VA for medical care, having a home care aide from Griswold and getting assistance from Veterans Home Care, Lary says, he has no problems. “They take good care of me and I’m still enjoying life.”
To learn more about the VetAssist Program for wartime veterans or their surviving spouses, call 888-314-6075 or email email@example.com