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Army dragged him in, 39 years later, AF Reserve had to drag him out

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Kent Kagarise
  • 442nd Fighter Wing
He was underneath the flatbed trailer of his racecar making adjustments when an olive-drab green vehicle pulled up. He found the solid, black wall tires of the vehicle to be strange, but was impressed with the shiny black boots - those of a solider-- of the man who stepped out. The soldier then kicked his leg that stuck out from underneath the trailer.

"Would you step out sir?" the soldier asked him.

It was 1972, and Larry Washington, (now a master sergeant in the 442nd Fighter Wing) was a "draft dodger."

Washington then lied and told the soldier he wasn't in fact, Larry Washington. "It happened in slow motion like something from a movie," Washington said. "Just then, my aunt stepped out onto the porch and yelled, 'Larry, do you want to eat here or take a sack to the race track?'"

Washington said he locked eyes with the soldier and saw the man reach for his side-arm, anticipating an arrest.

"That won't be necessary - you got me," Washington told the soldier.

A few months later, after having spent time in a military confinement facility, Washington was in Vietnam serving in a U.S. Army field artillery unit.

"I had really good friends that I lost over there. It got to where I didn't want to get close to anybody," Washington said. "I feel like it's a dishonor to their memory for me to talk about it as if

I'm a hero - because I'm not. It's something I'd like to forget."

After returning from Vietnam, Washington said he went from being a sharp troop to trying to "drink his pain away" and struggled with substance abuse for many years.

"I was so bad there for a while," he said, "that I would report for (kitchen patrol) on Saturday mornings just because I couldn't remember how much trouble I got into Friday night.
Sometimes they would send me home because I didn't even need to be there."


Washington stayed out of the military for eight years and said eventually got laid off from a steel company in Kansas City, Mo., when he began to considering college. A friend had offered to help pay his tuition, but said Washington would need to get some supplemental income.

"My friend suggested I go back into the military, and I told him, 'Heck no!'" Washington said. "But this guy served in the Air Force and talked about how much he enjoyed it and recommended I talk to an Air Force recruiter."

Eventually Washington caved.

In 1983, he became a photojournalist for the 442nd FW at Richards-Gebaur AFB, Kansas City, Mo. While serving in the Reserve and attending school to get his bachelor's degree, he still continued to struggle with alcoholism.

"I was a functioning drunk," Washington said.

In 2000, Washington said his sister passed away, and the day of the funeral, his wife left him and their son. It was at this time Washington said he began to think he needed to quit drinking - or he could lose his son.

"After the funeral, I poured myself a big 'ole glass of whiskey, and before I could take a sip, my nephew, who had been sharing Jesus with me, asked if we could pray together,"
Washington said. "I remember he kept saying over and over, 'Lord take the taste of alcohol out of my uncle's mouth.' He prayed so long. I remember peeking out of one eye and there were beads of sweat dripping down his forehead."

Washington said after the prayer he took a sip of whiskey and could not taste anything. He said he took a second sip and still - nothing.

"After that I poured some out, thinking I'd get the good stuff - but still nothing," Washington said. "I quit smoking and drinking, and the same day, the blessings just started pouring in."

Washington said his family grew closer once his eyes were spiritually, and literally, opened.

Although Washington said he and his wife were unable to reconcile, he said it was another life lesson he would like to impart to Airmen going through divorce or separation.

"Know that you're not ruined," he said. "Try to mend the marriage, but if you can't, try to get along with your ex if there are children involved. Know that life is worth living, and it'll get better."

Washington said when he began looking to God, it changed everything - including his Air Force career.

"Stay focused and respect yourself by respecting others," he said. "Be responsible, have integrity and listen to folks who've been through it. Be energized in all you do."

Washington said he is an example of how God, and good decisions, can turn a person's life and career around.

"After all that I went through, the greatest honor for me was having the privilege to be a first sergeant," he said. "When I was asked to apply for the job, I was apprehensive because so many of my superiors around the wing knew my past."

Washington said he was in disbelief when he got the phone call notifying him he had received the first sergeant's position and made the caller repeat the news.

"I don't fear anything because I have God, but I thought to myself, 'Can I do this?'" he said. "It was the greatest honor to be a first sergeant, because it's a ministry. To be able to shine for
God by taking care of people and helping them succeed. It really is the best position any Airman can ever have."


Washington said that now he seeks God first, always, and he is thankful for how he has been blessed by God through the Air Force. Washington said he looks forward to spending more time with his family one more weekend a month.

"I love my children and have the greatest family in the world," he said. "I tried to raise them right."
Washington's oldest child, Tiana Washington, said she is sure the Air Force molded her father into a very determined, hard-working man who was fearless in the eyes of a little girl.

"God created the man; will defined the man; and the military was blessed to have the man serve it," she said.

Washington said as he looks back on the past four decades: "I experienced it all. I've been in different wings and military organizations over the years. I've been a victim of prejudice, but
this wing has grown and always looks to grow. I see leaders with integrity, and the 442nd FW, in my opinion, is the greatest organization in the military."

Washington said if you want to find him in the future you'll have to try not to blink.

"The Army had to drag him into the military - and 39 years later, the Air Force had to drag him out," said Col. Eric Overturf, 442nd FW commander. "He's a valuable asset to this wing, and one we hope comes back to visit - often."