MARENGO — World War II veteran Don Harris, 96, was honored during Marengo’s Memorial Day ceremony, as a WWII veteraan and as the oldest veteran in the Marengo American Legion Post.
After the ceremony his daughter Pat Fitzpatrick provided his responses to interview questions.
Harris was a Navy Seaman 1st Class and entered the service in 1944 at the age of 19. In Florida, he was trained on sonar equipment but while he was in training, Germany surrendered. He was then sent to San Diego; and while on the train there, Japan surrendered.
He was sent on a troop ship to Guam. He said that was the first time he saw the graffiti, “Kilroy was here.” (The meme is most often attributed to James J. Kilroy, a ship inspector.)
Harris is from Ohio and one thing he remembers from Guam was his first sight of bananas straight from a tree — a large green bunch of them. He also said Guam was “very hot.”
From Guam, Harris was sent on a mine sweeper intended for Japan; but of all the fleet, his ship need repairs and did not complete the mission.
It’s almost as if everything was working against his opportunity to see action, but those coincidental events brought him home.
Awaiting one of their first leaves, a requirement was to render the ship shipshape — they had to clean the ship. Someone put too much soap on the floor and they struggled to get the soap cleaned up so they could go on leave.
Heading back to San Diego were seven ships. A mine floated by between two of the ships and the last ship in the fleet blew it up.
Harris was discharged in San Diego but the Navy didn’t provide for his way home. He hitchhiked, took a bus and a train back to Ohio.
When he was home he attended Ohio State for two years on the GI bill, studying to be a veterinarian. He changed his mind, though, and determined to return to Morrow County where he ran the family farm near Sparta, the same farm where he was born and still lives independently today.
In addition to farming, Harris worked for the Erie Lackawanna Railroad in Marion, then with the Sate of Ohio building state highways. He then returned to the railroad which became Conrail, Hilliard, and worked there 30 years until he retired.
He met his wife, the late Doris Seidner, at the Grange in Johnsville and they married in 1955. They have three children: Pat Fitzpatrick, Pam Wilson and Dan Harris. He has 10 grandchildren and numerous great grandchildren.
On a recent Honor Flight to Washington D.C. he was assigned a wheelchair, an uncomfortable convenience for a man who still mows his yard and does his own laundry.
In his brief remarks at the cemetery ceremony, Harris said, “I don’t feel that I need to be honored more than those who lost their lives.”
American Legion Dept. of Ohio 6th District Second Vice Commander Shane Eaton disagrees.
“In my opinion he deserves it because he signed on the dotted line as many of us did. We all know the risk and he did it anyway and for that he is my hero. He chose to serve his country, which is a great honor, to choose to provide protection to people you don’t know. Donald Harris is one of a few WWII veterans left, and we all need to thank them for what they did.”