The Life and Legacy of Air Force Veteran and Local Mechanic
Celebrate Our Veteran gives voice to the stories of the U.S. military veterans living amongst us. The actions of these brave and dedicated people, who have served our country both in active military duty as well as administrative positions, have and continue to contribute to the protection and preservation of us and our country.
We hope that this section of our paper is an opportunity for our community to hear and see veterans with new eyes, and for veterans to receive recognition and honor for their experiences and life journeys.
This month’s Meet Your Local Veteran column commemorates Larry Dodd, who passed away in Myrtle Beach on August 14, 2020. The story of his military service, as well as how he served our community is here recounted in an interview with his surviving children, Azure Dodd Byrd and Ryan Dodd.
This is Part 1 of a two part series. Click here to read Part 2.
by Melissa LaScaleia
Larry Dodd was born in Hagerstown, Maryland on June 17, 1945. He grew up on a dairy farm with a horse, Brownie, cows and an apple orchard. As a youngster, he would tinker with and fix the various farm equipment and old cars that were on the property. He also had a show cow, Berkey, which he exhibited at agricultural events as a member of the FFA.
His family was poor; his father worked in addition to running a farm, and from a young age, Larry was expected to wake up early and help milk the cows and perform tasks before and after school to help out. All of this left Larry with no time to play sports— a dream and passion of his that he never fully realized. However, life on the farm meant he learned how to work with his hands as well as how machinery and equipment worked. It also developed in him an enormous work ethic and a capability for figuring things out. It was a work ethic that his children had never seen replicated in any other person— and it lasted until he was 75 years-old and his body failed.
Larry graduated from South Hagerstown High School in 1963, and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1965. It was during the years of the Vietnam draft when he elected to join.
“He always told us that the Air Force had a great deal to do with the man that he became,” says Ryan, Larry’s son. “It built his character a great deal. To this day, we have very close family friends that originated from his early Air Force days. David Fowler was his best friend, and I’m his namesake, Ryan David. And Dad was the godfather of David’s daughter, Lisa.”
“There were more of my dad’s friends at my wedding than my friends,” says his daughter, Azure. “He was such a kind and genuine soul that he attracted people no matter the setting or phase of life. And we believe that character quality had a great deal to do with the status and success of his business later on.”
Larry completed basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. His specialty was radar technology maintenance. He quickly became a stand-out because of his technical abilities.
After their father passed, his children found scores of technical manuals from the ’60s.
“It’s a capability you don’t find in many people these days in his industry,” Ryan says. “We all knew he was brilliant, but as we saw all his documents, we really developed a new respect for him. These manuals that we ran into were extremely technical.”
After basic training, Larry went to Eufaula, Alabama, where he spent his spare time working in the machine shop of Frank McKee, a man who would become a very important figure in Larry’s life. From him, Larry learned about the gasoline engine— its manufacturing and repair. He acted as a mentor to Larry, and the two remained close his whole life; to this day, Frank is a key part of Azure’s and Ryan’s life.
When the Air Force transferred him to Miami, he met another mentor at a mechanical shop, a race expert who took him under his wing and taught him how to work with motors.
“Everywhere he went, he garnered life-long friends,” Ryan says. “Our childhood was spent taking road trips visiting people.”
“We’ve been in the car with mom and dad everywhere from here to Colorado and all over the East Coast,” Azure adds.
Larry met his future wife, Shari, when he was stationed in Denver, Colorado. They met at a bowling alley where he worked.
The bowling alley was closing and they were selling all the equipment. Larry put in a bid for the job to disassemble, package and ship all the bowling pin machines and equipment overseas. In those days, the machines were very complicated and technical, but Larry understood it all. He won the bid along with another enlisted friend, as well as Shari’s heart.
Larry was then stationed on Ascension Island, an isolated volcanic island in the South Atlantic, about 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa. There, he became a DJ for the local radio station that entertained the servicemen on base. Larry had a side passion for music; and during the year that he was DJ, spent time dubbing some of his favorite songs onto more than 75 cassette tapes that he hand catalogued by song title and artist. These catalogued songs are among Azure’s most treasured possessions.
“One of the most profound memories of my childhood was pouring over this music collection he amassed over the years,” Azure says. “That became something we really bonded over. And it speaks to his meticulous nature that showed in all of the mechanical things he did. He wanted everything done right. He used to say, ‘If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right the first time.’”
Larry and Shari married in 1972 in Denver. Azure was born four years later while Larry was stationed at Homestead Air Force Base in Miami. In 1977, he was stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi, on the Gulf Coast, at Keesler Air Force Base. It was an unusually long assignment that lasted for seven years, and during this time, Larry became an instructor with the Air Force.
He had become a master radar and electronics technician, and was a decorated instructor— tagged as one of the most skilled in the entire Air Force.
Ryan was born in Biloxi in 1982. And then the family was stationed in Keflavik, Iceland, for two years. Iceland was a strategic position, poised between the U.S. and Russia. It was during the Cold War, and the radar station there was known as one of the worst-performing in the world. Larry was sent there to turn it around, and he did. The assignment marked a turning point in his career.
“Everywhere he went, there was evidence of not only how masterfully he performed in the Air Force, but how endeared he was by his command and his students,” Ryan says. “He was just a fun, funny, dynamic, intelligent man. And those qualities really came out and shone.”
In 1985, he was stationed at Myrtle Beach Air Force Base where he served as the first sergeant of the radar maintenance squadron. He was up for promotion, but not enthusiastic abut it, as he enjoyed the hands-on work that he did as well as teaching, and knew his next promotion would take him away from those roles. He retired in 1986, after a twenty-year career in the military.
He had other reasons for retiring too, as he had other passions. And throughout his years in the military, he worked additional jobs that fed those interests. Just as he had so many times previously, Larry made connections in the automotive industry when he arrived in Myrtle Beach.
Here, he worked at an old-school, old-fashioned Exxon station in Surfside Beach as a part-time technician. But he was so skilled and so talented that the owner, Corky Harrison, who was, in those days, quite a figure himself, encouraged Larry to start his own business repairing cars.
“Those relationships really built him up,” Ryan says. “He was such a magnet for people, he was so easy to love. It was such a big part of who he was and what Larry’s Auto Clinic, the business he eventually started, became.”
“He was not a financial guru or business man,” Azure says, “but he had two things— an intense desire to interact with love and help people, and an extremely above average capability to diagnose and repair equipment— particularly gasoline engines.”