Garrett Hanas spent a large chunk of his long military career jumping out of perfectly good airplanes. There’s a good chance he’s the only person you’ll ever meet who’s twice survived crashing into the earth from some form of parachute failure.
“The first was a total parachute collapse at 250 feet,” Hanas said. “The second happened on a training mission in Canada nine months later when 35-knot winds threw me down on a frozen river.”
The first incident broke his back in three places. The second broke the same three places, again. While he survived both still able to walk, they left him with a lifetime of multiple back surgeries, injections and, often, use of a cane.
Hanas, 67, retired from United States Army after a 20-plus year career in the 82nd Airborne Division as a Sgt.-First Class. He enlisted toward the end of the Vietnam War, but ended up being the only soldier in his unit not to go. The Army decided a better purpose for him was training others in hand to hand combat. He was a competitive fencer during high school in his home state of New Jersey, which Hanas said likely informed that decision.
Currently, Hanas serves as the commander of the Knoxville Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Chapter 24. Its office has long stood on Holbrook Drive in Fountain City, and he lives about six blocks away.
Hanas joked that he apparently is “indestructible” and has been told more than once “I’m impressed you’re still alive,” adding, “God had a bigger purpose for me and that was to take care of our veterans. We will take care of all the wounded veterans. We don’t turn anyone away.”
As with most things in a trying 2020, there is no Veterans Day Parade in Knoxville this year, a cancellation that hasn’t happened since World War II. Likewise, the COVID-19 pandemic has called halt on the DAV’s normal fund-raising activities during the holidays. There will be no tables set up outside local businesses across the county. It’s especially disheartening, Garrett said, as this year is the 10oth anniversary of the DAV. The need for funding, however, remains, Hanas said, especially for the group’s initiative to provide disabled vets with motorized scooters or wheelchairs and other devices that help them lead a more independent life.
“I’ve been told by national (DAV) that we have the best wheelchair and medical equipment program in the country,” he said. “And I want people to know that we don’t spend this money on ourselves, 96% of our funds go to help veterans. Our building is long since paid for, but there’s the electric bill, keeping the van going (for shuttling area vets to the Mountain Home VA Hospital in Johnson City), stuff like that. Everything else goes to help veterans.”
While donations to the DAV can be made online, all of those donations go to the national organization, not directly to the Knoxville chapter.
“There’s nothing wrong with that, but the way our charter is drawn up, if people want to make sure their dollars are going to help East Tennessee veterans, they need to mail a check to us,” Hanas said. “Also, if they have a motorized scooter or wheelchair that’s no longer needed, we can take those and have them refurbished. We’d greatly appreciate it.”
To make a donation, mail a check to: Disabled American Veterans-Chapter 24, 2600 Holbrook Drive, Knoxville, TN 37918.
Find out more about the local DAV here.
Beth Kinnane is a freelance writer and thoroughbred bloodstock agent