Coverage Areas:  National |  South Carolina |  Aiken |  Beaufort |  Charleston |  Columbia |  Greenville |  Myrtle Beach |  Rock Hill
Menu

World War II vet encourages youth to join, serve with pride

GREENWOOD—When Veterans Day rolls around on Nov. 11, Alex Harris will observe the day from a perspective that is becoming increasingly rare.

Harris, 91, is a World War II veteran who served on a destroyer in the U.S. Navy.

He is a member of a distinguished but dwindling community. According to statistics compiled by the Veterans Administration, World War II veterans are dying at a rate of about 550 a day. That means only about 1.2 million of the 16 million who served in that war are still alive to tell their stories.

Harris, who attends Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Greenwood, is happy to be one of them. He looks back on his years of service with pride and no regrets.

He was born in Clinton but lived most of his life in Greenwood. The war disrupted his otherwise quiet existence when he and his family learned of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 while a local priest was celebrating Mass in their home.

11-06-14-aharris-cmykHarris quickly decided he didn’t want to wait around for the Army to draft him, so in 1942 he went to Columbia at age 18 to enlist in the Navy. Within a week, he left for boot camp, and was assigned to the U.S.S. Gillespie, part of a four-ship destroyer group that saw action in North Africa and several Pacific theaters, including Iwo Jima and the Battle of Okinawa in 1945, considered one of the longest and deadliest campaigns of the war.

Harris worked in the boiler room on the Gillespie and is thankful he and his friends came through the war safely.

“My ship didn’t get a scratch, but a Japanese plane dropped a bomb right between the stacks of one of our sister ships,” he said.

Wartime prompted a quick wedding for Harris and his beloved late wife, Helen. They met after he enlisted in the Navy, wrote hundreds of letters to each other, and then decided to get married during a brief, four-day leave he had in 1944. The catch? She was not a Catholic and the young couple had to receive urgent permission from the bishop to marry. They were together for 53 years before Mrs. Harris died in 1997.

Faith was a challenge, too. Harris said he was in the Pacific for a year before a priest arrived to hear confessions and celebrate Mass on one of the ships in his group.

Even though he served in one of the most difficult campaigns of World War II, Harris doesn’t look back on those days with any regret.

11-06-14-vet-harris“I enjoyed my time in the Navy even though there was a war on,” he said. He still travels to military reunions but missed one held earlier this year in Arizona.

His son Joseph caught the Navy bug and served for 23 years, and Harris proudly recites the names of nieces, nephews and other relatives who have served. He thinks military service ought to be a requirement for young people.

“I think it’s about time that the rest of the public realizes what the military is all about,” he said. “I tell the kids today that if they get a chance to go in the military, and give it their best attention, when they come out they’ll be well prepared for anything that comes along.”






  • Diocesan Events Calendar
    View All Events
    Oct 13 Diocesan Evangelization Conference
    From the Calendar of Ethnic Ministries
    Oct 278:00 am Day of Continuing Education for Deacons
    From the Calendar of Diaconate
    Nov 1 Black Catholic History Month
    From the Calendar of African American Ministry
    Nov 1010:00 am Junta de Equipo Diocesano de Emmaus
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Nov 1210:00 am Junta Diocesana
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Nov 17 Diocese of Charleston Native American Catholic Heritage Celebration
    From the Calendar of Native American Ministry
    Nov 18 Vietnamese Martyrs Celebration
    From the Calendar of Vietnamese Ministry
    Dec 1 Black Catholics Heritage Celebration
    From the Calendar of African American Ministry
    Dec 15 Simbang Gabi for Filipino Catholics
    From the Calendar of Filipino Ministry
    Dec 25 Diocesan Television Christmas Special Fox 21
    From the Calendar of Ethnic Ministries
    Jan 412:00 am Class 2019 Ordination Retreat
    From the Calendar of Diaconate
    Jan 812:00 am Retiro Espiritual de Emmaus
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Jan 1210:00 am Junta de Equipo Diocesano de Emmaus
    From the Calendar of Pastoral Juvenil
    Feb 911:00 am Ordination of Permanent Deacons
    From the Calendar of Diaconate