Dave Bahr is no stranger to military life.
For 31 years, the 71-year-old veteran from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, dedicated his life to serving in the Navy, Navy Reserve, Army and South Dakota National Guard. His service included 19 years of active duty: four years with the Navy and 15 with the Army.
“I have grandparents, uncles, a brother who served. It’s a tradition in our family that you serve your country and the people of it,” Bahr said.
Bahr enlisted in the Navy in 1966, spent his first two years on shore duty and working on a naval air station in California, followed by two, one-year tours in Vietnam.
After being discharged from the Navy in 1970, Bahr joined the South Dakota Army National Guard, serving in a variety of positions that took him all across the state, including as active duty personnel, active duty trainer, field artillery unit member and in administration. He also spent 13 years teaching at the South Dakota Military Academy in Sturgis, South Dakota.
By 2001, Bahr had undergone three rotator cuff surgeries and suffered an ankle injury that stopped him from passing his physical fitness test, which lead to his medical retirement later that year.
Impact on body
Multiple times throughout his years of service, Bahr could feel the physical effects of his job begin to take a toll. Constantly being on his feet led to some wear and tear on his body, especially his knees.
“I did physical fitness everyday — running, pushups, sit-ups, going out in the field and running through exercises, jumping in and out of trucks, loading equipment,” Bahr said. “My knee problems started back on active duty, but it was never bad enough to really do anything about it.”
While getting ready to be discharged in 2001, Bahr was told he had arthritis and osteoporosis in his right knee. At the time he did not see it as a serious issue and chose to stick it out until the pain really began to bother him.
It wasn’t until 2013 when Bahr heard a “pop” in his knee as he stepped out of the car one day.
“It hurt like crazy. That’s when I first met Dr. (Kris) Kimber and found out I had three tears in my meniscus, which he repaired,” Bahr said. “I recovered quickly and was back walking, basically normal, shortly after that, and that was the best I had felt in a long time.”
Following his initial surgery with Dr. Kimber, a surgeon with Sanford Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, Bahr remembers being told he wasn’t too far off from a knee replacement surgery a few years down the road.
He remained active, until last October when he felt a sharp pain in his knee while doing yard work for his mother-in-law. Thinking it was only bruised, Bahr waited almost a month before getting it checked out. He again saw Dr. Kimber, who performed a total knee replacement surgery on Bahr’s right knee in May.
“It went absolutely great,” Bahr said. “I went home the next day after surgery, which they said for Dr. Kimber was almost a ‘never.'”
Bahr said he had good movement and walked the afternoon after surgery, and was off narcotics just two weeks following his procedure. He is currently seeing Sherry Miller, P.T., for physical therapy in the Sanford Health Van Demark building and continues his stretching and physical therapy exercises at home.
For someone active like Bahr, his knee replacement surgery has allowed him to continue his lifestyle with less and less pain each day. Many people take everyday activities like mowing the lawn or walking up the stairs for granted, but not Bahr.
“Getting around and walking alone with less pain, that started from the first day,” Bahr said. “I feel fortunate, although I can’t do a lot of the things I used to be able to do when I was young. Sometimes I’ll start to ask myself, ‘Why me?’ And I have to stop and say, you’re fortunate.”
Bahr’s brother and brother-in-law recently died from cancer and the effects of Agent Orange during their times of service in Vietnam. His uncle had also suffered severe injuries after running over a mine while serving.
“My injuries are minor compared to fellow soldiers,” Bahr said. “There’s times that I question, ‘How did I get through all that and come out the other side?’ My brother was there (Vietnam) once and I was there twice. How did I do that?”
So for veterans like Bahr, Memorial Day holds an extra special meaning, as a time to honor and remember those who sacrificed their lives while serving the country.
“This day is for those that have gone before us and paid the ultimate price. I gave my life as far as 31 years of services goes — that’s a lifetime, and I was proud to do it,” Bahr said. “But those guys didn’t come home, I did. Those guys did it for me and for everyone.”
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