Advocate for local veterans passes away in Denver

Friends: Bill Harding ‘the kind of person God put on this Earth to help other people’

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Bill Harding

Services set

Services for Bill Harding, who died Saturday, have been set. The family will receive friends from 3 to 5 p.m. Thursday at Grant Mortuary, and memorial services will be at noon Friday at First Congregational Church in Craig.

Interment of cremains will follow in the Craig Cemetery. Memorial donations may be made to the American Cancer Society in care of Grant Mortuary.

Bill Harding, a former Moffat County Veterans Service Of­­ficer, died Saturday at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Denver.

Harding lived in Craig from 1976 until June 2009, when he and his wife, Sandy, moved to Grand Junction. He was an advocate for local veterans in Mof­fat County.

He died at 11:48 p.m. Sat­ur­­day.

On Jan. 29, he was flown by Flight for Life from Grand Junction to Denver after weeks of feeling poorly, Sandy Harding said.

It is thought that Harding died from an aggressive form of lymphoma, she added, but test results are pending.

He was 64 years old and would have celebrated his 65th birthday Sunday.

Sandy said a memorial service is being planned for Friday at First Congregational Church, 630 Green St., in Craig. The time of the service has not been determined.

Harding began working on behalf of veterans in 1999, when he became the county’s assistant Veterans Service Officer. He took over the primary position in 2003, and after a brief hiatus, returned to the job in 2006.

Harding, a Navy veteran, spoke of the reason behind his service to veterans in a May 2009 feature story about Sandy and him in the Saturday Morning Press.

He was a Vietnam-era veteran, and the harsh treatment Vietnam veterans received upon returning home left an indelible mark on him, he said.

“I work for the county, but the position requires that you’re working for the vets,” Harding said last year. “If you put the vets first, everything else falls into place.”

His service to veterans continued while he was in Grand Junction, where he moved to retire.

He worked a day a week driving veterans to and from medical appointments at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Sandy said.

He was also an organizer of the Honor Flight, a program that involved taking Western Slope World War II veterans on a trip to Washington, D.C.

News of his death was met with sadness Sunday among leaders in the local veteran community.

“What can you say?” said Ed Wilkinson, who succeeded Harding as the county’s Veterans Service Officer. “He went above and beyond the call of duty. … He took the extra step to be sure the job was done and the veteran was helped out.”

Wilkinson, who had known Harding for years, spent time with him last year as the two worked together transitioning the Veterans Service Officer position.

Wilkinson was impressed by the dedication he saw from Harding.

“Sitting there and watching him, he just went above and beyond to help veterans, to help veterans’ families, the (Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265), the American Legion (Post 62) and the guys with the Honor Flight.”

Mel Shockley, American Legion Post 62 commander, knew Harding since moving to Craig six years ago.

Harding served as the Amer­ican Legion’s junior vice commander under Shockley for four years, and Shockley also considered Harding a friend.

“It’s kind of hard to talk about,” Shockley said Sunday morning. “He helped me with everything. There wasn’t anything Bill wouldn’t do for anybody, and he did it.

“Bill thought of everybody but Bill. He was the kind of person God put on this Earth to help other people.”

Shockley said the community has suffered a loss from Harding’s passing.

“A big one,” he said. “A huge one. The kind of loss we didn’t need to suffer. … He put veterans first, and their families, and senior citizens. That was just Bill’s way. I haven’t met a finer man.”

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 875-1791 or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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