HARVARD – He may have started as what he calls a “transplant” to Harvard, but Joe McLachlan has become the face of the city’s support for veterans and their families.
He was born in Iowa but raised in Deerfield, and before his mother remarried and moved to Harvard, McLachlan probably couldn’t have pointed it out on a map.
“I ended up falling in love with her home, and the town and the people,” he said. “My connection to Harvard was as a transplant. I wasn’t family with the people, but their kindness drew me to the town.”
McLachlan was in the Marine Corps from 1988 until 1995. His unit was activated for Desert Storm in 1991, serving in the liberation of Kuwait and the defense of Saudi Arabia.
When he came home, he came home to Harvard, where he and his wife have stayed since.
Out of curiosity and looking for camaraderie, along with prompting from the then-mayor, McLachlan joined the American Legion Post No. 265.
He now serves as its senior vice commander. Jim Schuld, who nominated McLachlan as an Everyday Hero, said McLachlan has become instrumental in many veteran fundraising services in Harvard.
“Everything Joe does, you can point at recipients and see the evidence of his work,” Schuld said.
Not only does McLachlan back veterans, but as a Spanish teacher at Richmond-Burton Community High School, he also supports students who want to join the military, Schuld said.
“He’s outgoing, fun and has a great sense of humor and a big heart,” Schuld said. “He’s genuine and talented beyond belief. He’s a guy you never forget and you’re glad you met him.”
McLachlan is involved in American Legion activities such as marching in parades, Memorial Day commemorations, participation in Veterans Day ceremonies, and Flag Day observances.
As part of the Legion, he also organizes a scholarship golf outing at Beaver Creek Golf Course in Capron to benefit Harvard High School students.
And what’s more, Schuld said McLachlan has gone above and beyond in other programs, including Toys for Tots.
Nearly every weekend in December, McLachlan can be found outside the Harvard Walmart seeking donations.
At Richmond-Burton, McLachlan coordinates a care package for a troops program called Operation RB, which sends items to deployed alumni.
McLachlan said he does the work because he sees a need for someone to step up and complete the missions.
“Because without the American Legion, the VFW or the Marine Corps League, without sending care packages, there would be a void,” he said. “It’s something I believe is very necessary to care for our veterans and their families. Not just the veterans themselves, but their families.”
But he’s humble, saying he’s mostly on the fundraising end rather than being the man on the street.
“I do stuff that couldn’t be tied together under one thought, but is more a mixture of services that I’ve learned to do from the mentors I’ve been taught by,” he said.
McLachlan said he would gladly stop sending care packages – if there were no troops deployed. He would gladly stop collecting toys for children – if there were no kids who needed them.
“I’d gladly be put out of a job if I didn’t have to do it, but I find that there’s a need for it and I’m willing,” he said. “It’s become who I am. I don’t think I was born that way, but I think I’ve become that way.”