Fighting the good fight: Gar Williams honored for years of aiding veterans in health care battles

Though his time in the U.S. Army coincided with the Vietnam War, Gar Williams never wound up seeing combat in Southeast Asia.

However, as multiple former soldiers will attest, the Craig mainstay went on to fight an equally important conflict for his fellow servicemen.

Williams was the guest of honor Sunday afternoon at a thank you party hosted at Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4265 — a surprise event full of friends, neighbors and former members of the military.

The gathering paid tribute to the extensive efforts Williams has given in helping those who have served receive medical treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Nancy Sadvar helped coordinate the event with Williams’ wife Luann, whom she noted helps vets just as much as her husband.

“As much as they give, it makes me super-grateful to have them here for us,” Sadvar said.

Gar Williams poses with Luann, his wife of 33 years, during a party at VFW Post 4265 on Sunday, Sept. 17
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

With a son, nephews and a father-in-law with military experience, she noted that she’s seen how important proper health care is.

“It kind of gives you a different perspective when you have family and makes you appreciate it all the more,” Sadvar said.

Williams’ efforts range from helping veterans navigate the extensive V.A. paperwork for necessary medical expenses, to prodding those same people to get the ball rolling.

“A lot of veterans, particularly Vietnam-era, were told when you got out, ‘goodbye, thanks for your service and you’re not entitled to anything else,'” Williams said. “I’ve dealt with literally hundreds of claims and, knock on wood, nobody has been totally rejected.”

Williams’ mission is to make the complexity of the V.A. system easier, especially for people who are hesitant to ask for any help.

A military scrapbook and portrait commemorate Gar Williams at a party at VFW Post 4265 Sunday, Sept. 17
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

He noted an example of a female vet who disclosed sexual trauma while serving in Alaska. Williams was helping her husband’s case at the time but quickly jumped to her aid as well.

“We were able to document it, and she had been paying for all her own mental health care since she got out of the service for over 20 years,” Williams said. “It took almost a year to get a claim back, but it came back at 80 percent and totally changed their lives. When a veteran gets what they deserve, I feel good inside.”

Williams served in the Army from 1967 to 1975, primarily as part of the Military Police.

“I was what they called a ‘draft-motivated enlistee,'” Williams said. “Got a draft notice in the mail and went down and enlisted that day. I was probably 20, 21 at the time.”

Gar Williams chats with fellow veterans at a surprise party at VFW Post 4265 on Sunday, Sept. 17.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

Williams repeatedly missed being sent into the ongoing Vietnam War.

“I came down on orders for Vietnam in ’69 four or five times and every time the orders got canceled,” Williams said.

He spent a great deal of time in West Germany and worked as an investigator with West Germans in the 1970s.

Williams played a small part in sports history when the terrorist attacks at the 1972 Munich Olympics necessitated a great deal of security. He was part of a covert team that helped escort Olympian Mark Spitz — considered a high-priority target for his fame and Jewish heritage — out of the country.

“The media in the United States said he was escorted by unarmed, English-speaking security guards,” Williams said. “They were unarmed, except for their M-16s and their .45’s.”

Originally from Scranton, Pennsylvania, Williams spent much of his life after leaving the Army in Colorado and relocated to Craig in 2001.

It was two decades after leaving the service that he started encountering the V.A.

“I had problems with my feet and hadn’t done anything with it for years and somebody told me I ought to file for that,” Williams said. “I went through a couple service officers who weren’t doing anything to get it approved, so I thought ‘screw it’ and started going through the paperwork myself.”

Luann and Gar Williams laugh as Rich Sadvar speaks about Gar during a party at VFW Post 4265 Sunday, Sept. 17.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

Williams started volunteering to aid other veterans in the process.

“Sometimes it just takes a shove from somebody that’s been there to help them through it,” he said.

Another point of pride for the man who has held leadership roles in the American Legion was being able to bring a V.A. clinic to Northwest Colorado, a process which started in 2005.

“We were at an American Legion convention in Colorado Springs, and the regional director of the V.A. was there,” Williams said. “At that time there was nothing west of I-25 or north of I-70; we told him basically one-fourth of the state is cut off from V.A. care. He made the mistake of saying, ‘there’s no way in hell you’ll get a clinic out there. It would take an act of Congress.’ I thought that was the easy part.”

After extensive lobbying of Colorado legislators John and Ken Salazar, a telehealth clinic was opened in Craig in 2007.

Five years later, the site was rechristened for Major William E. Adams, which Williams said helped solidify its permanence.

“They think most of us rednecks don’t know anything, but by it being a congressionally-named facility, it takes an act of Congress to close it,” Williams said. “It’s grown quite a bit, and the need is still here. It’s outgrown two previous homes, so that’s a good thing.”

Tony Weiss speaks on behalf of Gar Williams during a party at VFW Post 4265 on Sunday, Sept. 17.
Andy Bockelman/Craig Press

Tony Weiss was one of the vets in attendance who sang Williams’ praises. As a fellow member of the Army — serving during Desert Storm — Weiss said he had bonded with Williams after also being on military bases in Germany.

“Sharing those stories and reminiscing is what we vets love to do,” Weiss said. “He’s just a wonderful guy, I’ll tell you. He’s someone who’s so dedicated to helping out so many veterans and his persistence is unsurpassed. He doesn’t get paid at all for putting anybody into the system.”

Williams said that while he’s been part of honor guard ceremonies, honoring military sacrifice involves much more than posthumous moments.

“It’s nice to do funeral honors and things like that for a veteran, but what about the time between he gets out of the service and when we put him in the ground?” Williams said.

He added that while he doesn’t agree with everything the American government funds, the V.A., and the people it helps, deserve every penny.

“Damn sure you can give money to the people who fought for this country and made it what it is today,” Williams said.

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