Lee Benson, Deseret News
Veterans' advocate Terry Schow.

Silver wings upon their chest

These are men, America’s best

100 men will test today

But only three win the Green Beret

— The Ballad of the Green Berets

OGDEN—It’s Memorial Day and nobody needs to tell Terry Schow what to do. Be up at the crack of dawn to place an American flag on the grave of each and every veteran lying in rest in the Ogden City Cemetery. Then return at 5 p.m. to take them down for next year.

Remembering veterans is what Schow does, and not just for one day, but every day, all year long.

He’s been doing it so long it’s second nature to him, like breathing. For years he was executive director of the Utah Department of Veterans and Military Affairs — an office he helped reinstate — and since his retirement in 2013 he’s kept right on advocating for veterans’ rights as Utah’s National Executive committeeman to the American Legion, as a member of the Veterans Military Commission formed by the Utah Legislature, as a member in good standing of the Disabled American Veterans, as the moving force behind refurbishing the World War I doughboy statue that now stands at the aforementioned Ogden City Cemetery, and so on and so forth.

“They paid me for a little while, now I’m back to being a volunteer,” is how Schow, with characteristic understatement, sums up his lifetime of service.

* * *

He grew up in the 1950s and '60s on “the wrong side of Ogden.” His family was on assistance and moved a lot. He attended five schools, and that was just in elementary school. But all along the way he was inspired by veterans. The grocery store where he worked was run by a World War II vet. The man he mowed lawns for was another World War II vet. When he got a job unloading boxcars at the Defense Depot of Ogden he met a vet named Steve Brantz, who had been in the elite Special Forces in the Army, aka the Green Berets.

Hearing Brantz’s stories about jumping out of airplanes and operating behind enemy lines and all the training, fitness and discipline required, Schow decided he wanted to be in Special Forces, too.

The fact he was just 5-foot-6 and 135 pounds did not deter him.

As soon as he graduated from Ogden High School, Class of ’67, he volunteered for the U.S. Army. The Vietnam War was at its height. Schow volunteered for that, too. After two years of surviving stateside Special Forces training, he and a buddy left their base in Massachusetts and drove across the country to California to board a ship bound for Saigon. On the way, they stopped in Ogden and Las Vegas, where Schow gambled away his last dollar. He was 21, he was off to war, why not? Who knew what was coming next?

After serving a year in Nam and returning to tell about it, he put the G.I. Bill to use, helping him get his college degree in police science.

When his military time was over, he was hired in 1978 by the state of Utah to work in its social and human services department.

He might have been assigned to the Department of Veterans Affairs — but there wasn’t one. In 1978, three years after the end of the highly unpopular Vietnam War, the state decided to disband an office that had been in existence since World War II.

“I thought, man, this is crazy,” says Schow, who joined others in a yearslong effort to reopen the Veterans Affairs office. In 1991, the lobbying was finally successful. In 2001 Schow became executive director of the department, a position he held until he retired in 2013. Evidence of the swath he cut for veterans is everywhere in Utah, highlighted by the three nursing homes for veterans erected in Ogden, Payson and Ivins.

In “retirement,” the old soldier has not faded away.

“There’s not a week goes by that I’m not doing something veteran related,” Schow confesses. These days he just wears more hats. One day he’s working with the American Legion — as national committeeman from Utah he’s helping with birthday plans as the “largest veterans organization in the world” turns 100 in 2019 — the next he’s helping a veteran file for medical claims, the next he’s advising the Legislature.

His No. 1 cause at the moment is trying to get the U.S. Census Bureau to include a question on the 2020 census that asks “Are you a veteran?”

The question has been asked previously but has been dropped for 2020.

It’s a big deal, says Schow, because the number of veterans in a state determines how many federal dollars you are entitled to. His worry is that the count will be lower than it should be because veterans have a way of slipping through the normal bureaucratic cracks and some won’t be counted any other way than on the census.

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"It can mean the difference of whether we get another nursing home, and all the nursing homes we have are full, with waiting lists.”

At 70, Schow walks with a cane, a consequence of those days jumping out of airplanes as a Green Beret. He’s still 5-foot-6, but a tad more than 135.

“I could be taller, I could be thinner,” he laughs.

But he couldn’t be more loyal to veterans.

“I just have a high regard for men who served,” he says, “especially for the infantry guys. I have a real soft spot for them.”

He doesn't want anyone left behind.