CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- On paper, without the details, it reads like a relatively ordinary life. He grew up on a farm. He liked electronics. He joined the Navy. For most of his working life, he drove a bus, first for the Charleston Transit Co. and then for Greyhound, where he spent 36 years.
The difference, as they say, is in the details. In the Navy, for instance, during the war, he was a radar operator on Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Nothing ordinary about that.
His bus driving career wasn't always ho-hum either. Imagine hauling John F. Kennedy all over Southern West Virginia during his campaign for president. Just one passenger he won't ever forget.
Leo R. "Pete" Harrah looks back on 87 years of living with much satisfaction. Except for that one awful thing. His son, a pilot for WVU, died in a plane crash at age 33.
An ordinary life? Is there any such thing?
"I was born up in Summers County, then my dad bought two farms near Alderson and we moved there. I went to high school at Talcott.
"My father was a timber contractor all over West Virginia. He had about eight or nine horses, teams to log with.
"In high school, I thought I wanted to be a technician in electronics and I took a course in radio. Then, in 1944, I went in the Navy.
"We picked up a ship in Indiana and took it down the Missouri and Mississippi. The executive officer thought I was just another hillbilly, so he made me be a mess cook. The skipper and electronics officer found out I had taken a course in electronics, so next thing I knew, I was a radar operator.
"We put the 4th Marines into Iwo Jima. That's where I grew up. The skipper wanted me as a talker. He claimed I could talk good. When anything of emergency nature went on, I had to be in the control tower beside him. Whenever he said to do something, I gave the order, fire a gun or whatever.
"When we were putting the Marines on the beach, this guy on the telephone, down where the tanks and Marines went off, started carrying on. I couldn't understand him, so I went down there. There was a dead Marine on the gurney and his buddy was laying across him crying. I had to stand there almost two hours putting those people off to shore with that dead Marine there. So yes, I grew up.
"We got another group and went to Okinawa. I slipped off the ship and went up to where Ernie Pyle was killed. It was crazy doing something like that because it was dangerous. Going into Okinawa, we had 100 men. When we left, we had 13.
"Then we came back to the Philippines and made three trips to Japan. The last trip, they gave us some liberty. We went to Nagasaki where the bomb was dropped. My buddy and I went down to the middle of Nagasaki. It was burned flat. They didn't tell us it was dangerous.
"I got thyroid cancer from it. Two doctors said that's what caused it. I had surgery in 2002. I take medicine every day, and have to have a scan once a year.
"I got my thumb cut off in the Navy. We had 80-foot waves going through, and I went out the wheelhouse door and slipped and caught my finger in the back of the hatch and cut my thumb right off. It was hanging down. My buddy, a pharmacist, wanted to take it off. I said, 'No, get me a tongue depressor and we will tape it up.' I remembered that from taking care of horses and dogs.
"So we taped it up, and I went to sick bay twice a day and poured ether on it for disinfectant. Three weeks later, we took that bandage off, and he couldn't believe it. The thumb had reattached.
"After the war, I went to Ohio and worked for a steel company as a pipe inspector. I came home to get something good to eat and ended up staying. I went to work for my dad so he could have a vacation.
"Over on Sandstone Mountain, I was running the timber job for him. We needed some feed. I started up the mountain and my car wouldn't pull. I was backing down and slipped and went over the mountain. My back and head and shoulders were all broken up. I figured this work wasn't for me.
"I started back to Ohio and stopped in Charleston. A boy I grew up with was driving a city bus there. He talked me into going to work for Charleston Transit. For three years and four months, I was a transit bus driver.