WEST LIBERTY – U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Urbana) visited West Liberty Town Hall on Tuesday to celebrate the life and service of Paul A Kari.
Jordan presented the local author with a proclamation that notes Kari’s service during the Vietnam War.
Kari was part of the 45th Tactical Fighter Squadron in the U.S. Air Force and flew a F4 Phantom ll. He was injured after ejecting from his plane, then captured and held as a POW for almost eight years. After his service, he traveled the United States, sharing his experience in hopes it would help others.
In 2010, he was inducted into the Ohio Military Hall Of Fame. He wrote about his war experience in “The Strength to Endure, a Memoir.”
Several of Kari’s friends and relatives attended Tuesday’s presentation.
Kari held a book signing and fund-raiser in November of 2017 to assist historical preservation efforts in West Liberty. All proceeds from the event went to the West Liberty Historical Society to restore the second floor opera house in the Town Hall.
During his time as a POW, Kari said, he was moved 26 times in and around Hanoi and spent years in solitary confinement off and on. There were 662 total POWs and he was the 12th one captured, which also meant he was the 12th one released on Feb. 12, 1973.
“Homecoming was wonderful,” Kari told the Urbana Daily Citizen in a 2017 interview. “The first landing was at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines and we had thousands of people cheering us. The POWs were treated very, very well, unlike the typical GI coming home. They were spit on and cursed and called baby-killers and everything; it was very unfortunate.”
During his imprisonment Kari tore his shoulder and acquired vision problems, which are among the 13 health issues the Air Force said he had when he retired. He returned home as a major, then pleaded his case before the Secretary of the Air Force to let him stay in until he made Lt. Col., even though he knew he wasn’t fit for worldwide duty. Then, 16 years and three months after receiving his commission, Kari retired from the Air Force and went to work for the Federal Aviation Administration for the next eight years.
During his career with the FAA he moved from Washington, D.C., to Denver, then to Seattle before deciding that he no longer enjoyed the work. Instead, he returned to his hometown of Spencer, Ohio, and cleaned up an old farm that he describes as a disaster when he bought it. After selling it for a profit he bought another, more expensive farm, and continued cleaning up farms until a year ago when he moved from Bloomington, Ohio, to West Liberty.
“I love the area and plan on settling down here and retiring,” he said in November. “The people here in West Liberty – this whole area – have accepted me better than anywhere else I’ve been. I’ve cleaned so many farms up in Colorado, Nebraska and all over Ohio. They just love me more than anywhere else and it’s really a nice feeling …”
Kari is a lifetime member of both the American Legion post in West Liberty and the VFW in Urbana. He continues to speak where he is invited. He attends Grace Baptist Church in Urbana, largely, he said, because he loves the pastor and the other people who go there.
Christopher Selmek and Tami Wenger contributed to this story.