Clinton County Veterans Service Officer Joe Root has been nominated as Indiana Veteran of the Year for 2017. Judges, who are themselves veterans, will study all of the nominations but the names, rank, distinctions and tours of duty of the nominees will be redacted, according to Mike Mustain, chairman of the Indiana Veteran of the Year Committee.
The nominees will be identified by gender and an identifying number, Mustain detailed.
The Female Veteran of the Year and the Male Veteran of the Year will be announced at the awards banquet Nov. 9 in New Albany, and each nominee will recognized with a certificate.
Root served in the U.S. Marines from 1966 to 1970 during the Vietnam era but he was not engaged in the conflict, he said. As a quality control inspector, he was not allowed to leave his post at Quantico, Va., he said.
Before being appointed to the veterans service officer's (VSO) post, Root worked two years as a Clinton County jailer and and radio operator and 21 years in the Sheriff's Office, retiring in 1996.
Root also was an original member of the Frankfort Bass Casters, he said, and spent time competing on the Bass Circuit, with his biggest catch a 9.5 pound lunker hooked in Florida.
At the time, Root was working at the Sheriff's Office, he was also employed full-time at Peter Paul candy factory in Frankfort.
"I would work my shift, fish, and work my shift," he said.
Root continued on the circuit until he found it wasn't fun anymore. "We started before daylight and ended sometimes at dark," he explained.
Former VSO Lloyd Brower gave Root his start in the veterans office he would later lead. After retirement, Root worked for Brower as a volunteer until one Monday when he accompanied Brower to a Clinton County Commissioners' meeting.
According to Root, at the meeting Brower told the commissioners, "I'm retiring, and this is my replacement."
Root, caught unaware, graciously and gratefully accepted the position nonetheless.
Many local veterans are grateful for the effort Root has put in on their behalf.
"I appreciate how much he helped me get benefits," said Jack Taylor, of Frankfort. "He had done a very good job in-between me and the Veterans Administration. "He has certainly helped me out a bunch."
Frankfort City Building Inspector Sam Payne, who works just down the hall from Root in Old Stoney, describes Root as a "great guy."
Root served under Sheriff Robert Payne, Sam's dad. "He's a tremendous guy. He's done a lot for the community and done a tremendous job for us as veterans.
Payne said he believes Root has had a role in ensuring local veterans get the respect they deserve but often previously didn't get.
Most people don't understand that veterans have different needs depending on a their age and the conflict and era in which they served, Root explained.
"Vets are not getting recognized as they should be, and lots of things could have been done that weren't done," he said. "There are lots of older vets who don't look positively at younger vets, and we don't recognize the problems each group of vets have. Those who served in the same conflict don't meld as well with others who served in other conflicts."
To honor Clinton County veterans, Root approached the commissioners to build a memorial to honor local servicemen and women.
"'You can build anything you want,' they said. 'You just have to pay for it,'" Root recounted. In return, Root requested the commissioners set up a non-revolving fund for donations, meaning that any money left over at the end of the county's budget year stayed in the fund instead of being forfeited.
"The commissioners have been very good to me," he noted. "They've never turned me down for anything."
Within eight months he had raised enough money to start the memorial, which includes selling bricks with the names of veterans locals want to memorialize.
"I don't want to be a burden on the taxpayers," Root said. "I've built the memorial as a collaborative effort."
Root can be found at the Veterans Service Office in Old Stoney at 301 E. Clinton St., Frankfort, from 9 a.m.-3:30p..m. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
While helping Clinton County veterans resolve any problems they may have, he also spends his time assisting other VSOs, he said, adding he is currently working with a couple of newer officers, one of whom calls Root about twice a week for advice.
"I wasn't looking for this, but it has been very rewarding. A guy last week stopped in with a smile this wide and told me about the back-payment check he received, along with money for hearing aids," Root said.
Root also helped a family replace their loved one's headstone 17 years after their death - when someone finally noticed the name had been misspelled.
"Within a week, I got approval for a new stone and within about two months they had made and sent a new one."
Mary Jane Weaver credits Root for returning her husband's dog tags, which had been missing since 1944.
The dog tags had been uncovered by an excavator working at the former Weaver home site, she said.
"The contractor was there working on the yard and he had dug a couple of forkloads when he spied something," Weaver recalled. "He took it home, cleaned it up as good as he could, let it lay awhile and then decided to take it to Joe Root, who, in turn, researched it."
After Root tracked down the tags' original owner, he took them to Weaver's son, Bert, who returned them to his mother, who was astonished to receive them after they were lost for six decades.
"(Joe's) an all-around great guy," she said.
In addition to dedicating himself to serving veterans, he also served on the Frankfort City Council and still serves on the Frankfort Utility Service Board.
Among his proudest moments, said Root, was attending the inauguration of President Donald Trump in January with his grandson, Blayne Root. This was Root's third inauguration, having attended both of George W. Bush's swearing-in ceremonies but he was especially enthused to share the event with Blayne, who serves as a full-time police officer for Whitestown and also assists as a medic for Lifeline helicopter.
"I can't think of a better candidate for (Veteran of the Year), said veteran Joe Palmer, of Frankfort.