Harry Wiley, age 85, passed away recently in Scarborough. Father, brother, husband, grandfather, Korean War veteran, Libby-Mitchell participant, he will be remembered for them all.

But, for me, he will be best known as ranking in the Top Ten in the “I-Don’t-Really-Care-What-People-Think-of-Me” category.

He didn’t. My late father, who at age 90 just beat Harry to the Pearly Gates by about three weeks, called Harry “an ornery old coot.”

I said, “But, Dad, what do they call you?”

An irascible old coot, he acknowledged. 90-year-old Coot Humor, I guess.

The World War II-era guys such as Harry did not consider themselves “teachers.” And certainly not “lecturers.” That was part of their beauty. The Greatest Generation did so much, and had so many lessons to offer, but most never realized it.

Unlike many people I meet, I actually remember the first time I met him. 1983. Libby-Mitchell Post 76. Dart board area.

I was young. I asked Harry what branch of the service he had served in. And did he see combat (Two questions I am now, as an adult, smart enough not to ask – do not become too “familiar” with people you are just meeting).

“Army,” Harry said. “Korea.” I waited. He saw me hesitate on a follow up. “I saw some things I would rather have not seen,” he added. Later in my life, I would realize he was describing what is now called PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

I then added another stupid comment: “Gee, when I think of the Korean War, I think of that TV show in the l970s ‘MASH’ with Alan Alda, and ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan, etc!” I was trying to break the ice or something.

He looked at me kind of sternly. Distant.

“The problem with our society,” he said, drawing his face close to mine, “is we tend to trivialize combat. We make war funny.” He mentioned the l960s TV show, “Hogan’s Heroes,” a show that stuck in the craw of another revered Scarborough veteran, Norman St. Pierre, who had been a German POW in World War II.

“Then, when the next time comes for politicians to start a war, they don’t think twice war is humorous, right?!”

I didn’t think much of his comment then.

But, over the past 30 years, my, oh, my. Was he on the money, or what?

Quick – name a member of Congress who agonizes over votes to spend billions of dollars the past 15 years on wars in the Middle East.

Exactly. There are many reasons why those votes are not difficult for Congress (another is almost none have sons involved, another pet peeve of Mr. Wiley’s).

Harry was ornery, yes. He was also pithy. He liked a quote from his brother Harold, who ran Wiley Pontiac car dealership at the Maine Mall, about Maine having a fragile economy: “Everybody in this state is two paychecks away from bankruptcy.”

He was also a golfer, like Harold. Never hire anybody without playing a round of golf with him, he told Harold.

“You can tell an awful lot about a person in a round of golf,” he said.

R.I.P. Harry. You were blunt and ornery. But you were insightful. Your advice “saved us a helluva lot of time,” as you liked to say. Excelsior.

Dan Warren is a Scarborough trial lawyer. He can be reached by private Facebook message on the Jones & Warren Attorneys at Law page, or by email at [email protected]


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