1942

Military Monday: USS Harmon DE-678 1943

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USS Harmon DE-678 Image One
Destroyer Escort USS Harmon
Circa August 1943
Image was censored and retouched.
Radar antennas removed.
Pennant added in its place.
Released for publication March 1944
Photo Credit: Naval History & Heritage Command
Wikipedia & Wikimedia

The USS Harmon was a U.S. Navy Buckley class destroyer escort named after Leonard Roy Harmon, a Mess Attendant (Messman) First Class that served aboard the USS San Francisco. It was the first U.S. warship to be named after a Black American. It was launched July 25, 1943, by Bethlehem Steel Company in Quincy, MA, sponsored by Harmon’s mother and, seventy-seven years ago, today, it was commissioned. She spent nearly a year serving as an escort ship near New Caledonia. After a short period at Pearl Harbor, she joined the Luzon Reinforcement Group. By March 1945, she was an escort and an anti-submarine screen off Iwo Jima. She returned to Pearl Harbor for training, then to Mare Island for a weapons upgrade and, when the war was over, she conducted training operations with submarines.

Leonard Roy Harmon Image Two
Commemoration Poster
Source: Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery
Photo Credit: Wikipedia & Wikimedia

Decommissioned March 25, 1947, she joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was stricken August 1, 1965 and sold for scrap January 30, 1967. She received three battle stars for her World War II service.

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Leonard Roy Harmon, born in Cuero, Texas, on January 21, 1917, enlisted in the U.S. Navy on June 10, 1939, as a Mess Attendant Third Class. He trained at the Naval Training Station, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia and reported to [the] San Francisco (CA-38) on October 28, 1939. On November 12, 1942, [the] San Francisco was covering a force of transports disembarking reinforcements off Guadalcanal when Japanese land attack planes, carrying torpedoes, attacked. [The] enemy aircraft crashed into the ship causing “considerable damage and intense fires” that put the after anti-aircraft director and radar out of commission. One officer and 15 men were either killed outright or died of their injuries. Harmon rushed in to evacuate the wounded. He was then assigned to assist Pharmacist’s Mate Lynford Bondsteel in evacuating and caring for the wounded. While the ship was being raked by enemy gunfire, Harmon deliberately shielded Bondsteel in order to protect his wounded shipmate. Although Bondsteel managed to get his courageous shipmate below, Harmon died of his wounds soon afterward.

Democracy In Action Poster Image Three
Artist: Charles Henry Alston
Collection: National Archives at College Park
Office of War Information poster from 1943
Photo Credit: Wikipedia & Wikimedia

Harmon was awarded a Purple Heart and, in March 1943, the Navy Cross.

Citation Excerpt:

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Mess Attendant First Class Leonard Roy Harmon (NSN: 3600418), United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty in action against the enemy while serving on board the Heavy Cruiser U.S.S. San Francisco (CA-38) […]. With persistent disregard of his own personal safety, […] Harmon rendered invaluable assistance in caring for the wounded and assisting them to a dressing station. In addition to displaying unusual loyalty [on] behalf of the injured Executive Officer, he deliberately exposed himself to hostile gunfire in order to protect a shipmate and, as a result of this courageous deed, was killed in action. He gallantly gave his life for his country.

Addition Reading & Sources:
First US Ship Named For An African-American (History & Headlines August 31, 2016)
USN Ships: USS Harmon (DE-678) (Ibiblio Database)
Citation: Leonard Roy Harmon (Military Times)
Modern Ships: USS Harmon DE-678 (Naval History & Heritage Command)
Ship Histories: Harmon (DE-678) (Naval History & Heritage Command)
USS Harmon (DE-678) (Naval Warfare Blogspot)
World War Two: Told In A Museum (New Caledonia Site)
Leonard Harmon (Smithsonian)
Leonard Harmon, USN (USS San Francisco Site)
Leonard Roy Harmon (Wikipedia)
Naval Battle of Guadalcanal (Wikipedia)
USS San Francisco (Wikipedia)

Movie Monday: To Hell and Back 1955

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To Hell and Back Image One
Image Credit: IMDB & Amazon

Sixty-five years ago, today, the war film To Hell and Back was released, originally in San Antonio. Directed by Jesse Hibbs and based on the book of the same name, it starred Audie Murphy, Marshall Thompson, Charles Drake, Jack Kelly, Gregg Palmer, Paul Picerni, David Janssen, Denver Pyle, Brett Halsey (Admiral’s great-nephew) and Gordon Gebert as a young Audie.

IMDB Summary:

Biopic of the wartime exploits of Audie Murphy (played by himself), the most decorated US soldier in World War II. Starting with his boyhood in Texas, where he became the head of his family at a young age, the story follows his enrollment in [the] Army where he was assigned to the 3rd Division. He fought in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, before landing in southern France and, eventually, fighting in Germany. A Medal of Honor recipient, he also received battle honors from the French and Belgian government.

Rotten Tomatoes Summary:

The highly variable Audie Murphy delivers his best screen performance as “himself” in Universal‘s To Hell and Back. Based on the star’s autobiography, this is the story of how Murphy became America’s most-decorated soldier during WW II. After dwelling a bit on Murphy’s hard-scrabble Texas upbringing, the story moves ahead to 1942, when, as a teenager, Audie joined the army. Within a year, he was a member of the 7th Army, serving in North Africa, Italy, France and, ultimately, Germany and Austria. One by one, the members of Murphy’s Company B are killed in the war, until only three men from the original company are left. [The] others appear at the finale as ghostly images […]. The bulk of the film is given over to Murphy’s conspicuous acts of combat bravery and his killing of 240 enemy soldiers. Highlighted by excellent battle sequences, To Hell and Back is a serviceable tribute to a most complex individual.

Audie Murphy Image Two
Date: 1948
Photo Author: Fort Detrick
Wikipedia & Wikimedia

Trivia Bits:
Filmed at Fort Lewis, WA, Yakima River, WA, Oak Creek Wildlife Area, WA and Universal Studios.
♦ Audie Murphy originally declined the opportunity to portray himself in the movie, not wanting people to think that he was attempting to cash in on his role as a war hero. Murphy initially suggested his friend Tony Curtis to play him.
♦ Audie Murphy’s war buddy Onclo Airheart was slated to play himself, but he declined due to the fact that the movie was to be shot during planting season.
♦ [Author] David Morell [sic] cites Audie Murphy as the inspiration for the character of John Rambo.
♦ In the movie, […] Murphy does his one-man standoff on top of a medium M-4 Sherman tank. [In] real life it happened on top of an M10 Wolverine tank destroyer.
♦ Audie Murphy’s feats of heroism and his much decorated status have been compared to those of his counterpart during World War I, Sgt. Alvin C. York […].

Murphy […] wrote poetry and songs, and, himself a sufferer, was among the first advocates for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He died on May 28, 1971, when the private airplane in which he was riding crashed.

Additional Reading:
To Hell and Back (American Film Institute)
To Hell and Back (Turner Classic Movies)
Alvin York (Wikipedia)
Audie Murphy (Wikipedia)

Flick Friday: Captain Eddie 1945

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Captain Eddie IMDB Image One
Image Credit: IMDB & Amazon

Seventy-five years ago, today, the drama film Captain Eddie was released. Directed by Lloyd Bacon and produced by Winfield Sheehan, it starred Fred MacMurray, Lynn Bari, Charles Bickford, Thomas Mitchell and Lloyd Nolan. Based on Seven Came Through (by Eddie Rickenbacker) and We Thought We Heard The Angels Sing (by James Whittaker), John Tucker Battle wrote/adapted the screenplay. A biopic of Rickenbacker, it reflects his experiences as a flying ace during World War I to his later involvement as a pioneering figure in civil aviation.

Plot/Summary:

In World War II, while serving as a United States Army Air Forces officer, famed World War I pilot Eddie Rickenbacker (Fred MacMurray) is assigned to tour South Pacific bases. On October 21, 1942, his Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress has to ditch at sea, forcing Rickenbacker, pilot Lt. James Whittaker (Lloyd Nolan), co-pilot Capt. Bill Cherry (Richard Crane) and other crew members to survive for 19 days on a tiny rubber raft. While awaiting their rescue, Rickenbacker recalls his other adventures that have highlighted a remarkable life.

Full Synopsis (TCM)

Captain Eddie IMDB Image Two
Image Credit: IMDB & Amazon

Review:

It seems as though someone is kidding…kidding in more ways than one. For Captain Eddie, which came yesterday to the Roxy, is not the story it promises to be of Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, ace of World War I and commercial airline executive who holds some rather rigid social views. Nor is it precisely the saga of the middle-aged flier who was lost at sea two years ago in the South Pacific and spent three harrowing weeks on a raft. It is just another sentimental comedy about a kid who jumped off the barn in his youthful passion for flying and courted his girl in a merry Oldsmobile. [This] is not the story of Rickenbacker…not the significant story, anyhow.

Bosley Crowther
The New York Times
August 9, 1945

Trivia Bits:
♦ Crash survivor Lt. James Whittaker was […] temporarily assigned to the production to serve as a technical advisor.
♦ The film’s premiere was held in Rickenbacker’s hometown of Columbus, Ohio. In attendance were politicians and celebrities, including Carole Landis, as well as family members.

Nomination:
Best Special Effects (Academy Awards 1946)

I can’t find a trailer to the movie on YouTube but, the entire movie appears to be uploaded in pieces. I did find this. ~Vic