Navy honors Pearl Harbor survivor during USS Utah Memorial ceremony

0426_6Story and photos by Brandon Bosworth

Staff Writer

The ashes of William “Bill” Harris, a survivor of the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, were scattered in the waters near the USS Utah Memorial on Ford Island during a ceremony held April 23. Among those in attendance were Harris’ sons, John and William Jr.

William Harris was born in Colorado in 1921. His family relocated to California, where Harris graduated from Hollywood High School. In October 1940, he joined the Navy.

“He had wanted to go to the Naval Academy and be an officer but couldn’t get an appointment so he enlisted,” said Jim Taylor, Pearl Harbor survivor liaison, who spoke at the ceremony.

“After he completed recruit training, he was assigned to the battleship Nevada which was home-ported in Long Beach but had transited west to Pearl Harbor to participate in atsea training evolutions,” Taylor explained.

By December 1941, Harris was a seaman second class assigned to the second division in the handling room of the number two turret. During the attack, he assisted in the ship’s line-handling detail in casting off from the quays alongside Ford Island so Nevada could get underway.

Chief Boatswain’s Edwin J. Hill led the detail. Hill lost his life on that day and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. According to William Harris’ son John, his father clearly remembered the moment Hill was killed.

“Dad talked about how Hill was blown overboard by one bomb, and another bomb blew his remains back on the ship,” he said.

Within a few days after the attack, Harris headed to the South Pacific as part of U.S. Navy efforts to protect Australia and New Zealand. In May 1942, he participated in the Battle of Coral Sea.

Eventually Harris was able to pursue his dream of becoming an officer. He enrolled in the V-12 Navy College Training Program and received a degree in engineering from the University of Texas.

“After reading a lengthy interview with him, it was obvioustomehewasavery proud Sailor, proud of his ship, and loved the Navy,” said Taylor. “His main goal was to become an officer, a goal that came true.”

By the time the war was over, Harris once again found himself at Pearl Harbor, this time serving as a staff communications officer for Adm. Arthur Radford, who referred to him as “my ensign.”

William Harris left the Navy in 1951 as a lieutenant. He died Dec. 24, 1981. His body was donated to science per his wishes. Eventually his remains were cremated and, through the efforts of his sons, were spread over the waters of Pearl Harbor during Tuesday’s ceremony.

“He has made his final voyage back to Pearl Harbor so he could be reunited with his shipmates lost that fateful day over 70 years ago,” said Taylor.

Chaplain Lt. Rick Tiff, Pearl Harbor Memorial Chapel, presided over the services.

“Bill Harris proved to be of high character on Dec. 7,” Tiff said. “He made sacrifices for his country.”

William Harris’s sons were pleased with the ceremony.

“It was very emotional,” said William Harris Jr. “It was as if Dad had just passed away.”

“The Navy did an excellent job,” said John Harris.

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Category: News