Military Order of the Purple Heart

Texas Capital Chapter 1919 Austin, Texas

 

FLETCHER W. HARRIS JR.

1923 - 2009


29TH INFANTRY DIVISION SHOULDER PATCH

115th INFANTRY REGIMENTAL CREST


 

FLETCHER W. HARRIS, JR.

Patriot, Chapter 1919

 (ARMY, WWII, Europe) Article April 2004

Fletcher Harris, Jr. was born in 1923 on Galveston Island, and is justly proud of the local area appellation, “BOI,” which stands for “Born on the Island.”  He received reserve officer training at Castle Heights Military Academy and in August 1941 was commissioned Second   Lieutenant, Infantry, in the Army Reserve.  Following that, he was a  student in the University of Tennessee, and remembers that he was in the Sigma Chi Fraternity House when he received his orders to active duty in April 1942.

 

Fletcher served one year as an instructor at Camp Wolters, Texas.  He was then assigned to the 69th Infantry Division in Mississippi where he received training in heavy weapons and participated in the division’s winter maneuvers.  In early 1944 Fletcher was part of a levy for replacement officers needed in England.  They were sent from Hattiesburg, Mississippi to Ft Meade, Maryland, then to Camp Miles Standish,  Massachusetts, where they shipped out with the largest convoy ever to cross the Atlantic.

 

The trip took 13 days.  Arriving in Liverpool in April 1944, Fletcher Harris was part of the group designated for the “Excess Officers Pool.”  He says, “As a replacement officer, I was assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 115th Infantry, 29th Infantry Division.  D-Day+2, June 7, 1944, found us in Normandy as replacements for the D-Day losses.”

 

Company B was in continuous contact with the enemy for the next 34 days, fighting in the hedgerow country of Normandy, until finally on July 11, 1944 Lieutenant Harris would sustain the wound that put him out of the war for good.  On nine occasions Fletcher Harris narrowly escaped near certain death situations—and he describes his survival as a miracle in each case.  In one instance, while moving along a hedgerow on a patrol, the Germans activated a command detonated mine just as he came up next to it; but, it failed to go off.  On several other occasions he had come under machine gun fire or intense small arms fire at close range, but, in each case, sometimes inexplicably, he escaped untouched.

 

On July 11th, the 29th Division was to launch a coordinated attack toward St. Lo; but the Germans pre-empted that plan with an early morning attack of their own.  Lt. Harris’ Platoon was on the extreme right flank of the battalion and his fighting positions were aligned along and forward of a sunken road.  German troops followed their artillery preparatory fires, closed up to the American’s positions and entered close combat all along the battalion line. The enemy overran the rightmost machinegun position, and turned the gun to fire back down the sunken road as other German Infantry began dropping concussion grenades into the road near Lt Harris’ position. He says, “They were like big ostrich eggs.  One of them hit my helmet and rolled down by my left ear.  I could hear the fuse!  I grabbed it with my right hand and as I reached to throw it back, it went off in my hand.  It took off the hand and also left me with fragmentation wounds in my nose and one knee.  I never lost consciousness, but was dazed and my helmet and rifle were gone as I started limping along down the sunken road to seek medical aid while clutching my right wrist with my left hand.  Blood was also flowing from the knee wound and I was aware that blood was sluicing down into my left boot as I made my way along while machine gun fire (from our captured gun) was kicking up all around me.  I was only about 75-80 meters from the gun when I started out and it is a miracle that I was not hit while so exposed, until someone grabbed me and pulled me away under cover from the machine gun fire.  It was Sergeant Spann, from a heavy weapons company that was attached to our regiment.  We had been in Castle Heights Military Academy together, but had not seen each other since.  He assisted me out of the area and across an open field with artillery falling all around us.  When we came out of that area some guys asked, “How in the world did you ever survive crossing that field?”  We made it only by lying flat on the ground when the shells were coming in. We arrived at the aid station, only to find that it had also been overrun.  People and bodies were everywhere.”

 

It was later learned that the battalion lost 254 killed during that action. Although Fletcher Harris was out of the battle and under medical control, he was far from safe.  Upon arrival at the aid station, Sergeant Spann tried to get him onto a departing ambulance, but that driver turned Fletcher away and he had to wait for the next one available.  He was the first casualty put onto the next arriving ambulance.  After 2-3 miles down the road they came upon the wreckage of that previous vehicle.  It had taken a direct hit from an artillery shell and everyone in it had been killed.  Fletcher counts that as another miracle that he had not been on board.

 

After being operated on in a field hospital in Normandy, Fletcher was flown back to England on one of the C-47 aircraft and went into the 141st General Hospital near Bristol.  After several months there, In October 1944, he was moved by train up to Scotland for boarding on an air ambulance back home to America. At  the last minute he was rather indelicately told that he had contracted what might be a “terminal case of yellow jaundice” (hepatitis, believed to have been from his blood transfusions). As a result, his name was scratched off the list for the flight home.  That plane, a Lockheed Constellation, crashed while taking off in the fog, killing everyone on board. Fletcher counts that as the ninth and last of the miracles that spared his life in WWII.  Fletcher survived his “yellow jaundice,” and a month later sailed from Liverpool on the hospital ship DOGWOOD.  The ship had steering problems so severe that it slowed the vessel’s progress and the men decided it should more appropriately have been called the DRIFTWOOD instead.  They finally arrived in Charleston, South Carolina, on November 13, 1944.

 

Fletcher Harris says, “I was then sent back home to Texas, to McCloskey Hospital in Temple.  This is where I met a beautiful nurse, Imanell Baker, and we were married.  I was medically retired on April 16, 1945 and she went with me back to the University of Tennessee so I could finish my degree in Mechanical Engineering.  We have been blessed with three children: Vivianne, Laura, and David.”

 

Fletcher returned with his family to his home in Galveston, Texas.  He followed his father in the real estate business and served his community  extensively through the City  Council, disaster  relief  including hurricane preparedness.  He met the challenge of only one hand by learning to use his left hand to become a Master Pistol Class shooter, champion archer, bowling champion, expert pool shooter, certified scuba diver, and a   pilot with a special license; therapy sessions with children who are amputees; and as a one-hand draftsman for Union Carbide, the only one they ever hired. Fletcher passed away at the age of 85, on Father's Day June 21, 2009 while living with his son, David, in Carrollton, Texas where he moved following the hurricane on Galveston Island. His story was nationalized by Greta of Fox News during that storm. Fletcher was a long-time member of Chapter 1919 and attended the George Washington's dinner in 2008.

 

Fletcher Harris provided this Purple Heart story for publication in the April 2004 issue of PATRIOT BULLETIN.  Fletcher passed away in June 2009.

2nd LT FLETCHER W. HARRIS SHOWN AT CAMP WOLTERS, TEXAS IN THE SUMMER OF 1942 AS OFFICER IN CHARGE OF THE GRENADE RANGE.  AFTER THE WAR, IT WAS DETERMINED THAT FLETCHER HAD FIRED  THE HIGHEST RECORD EVER SCORED ON THE RIFLE MARKSMANSHIP COURSE AT CAMP WOLTERS DURING WWII.
Read Fox News' Interview with Patriot Fletcher Harris
 

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