Millard Harmon

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Millard Fillmore Harmon, Jr.
Millard Harmon.jpg
Nickname(s) Miff
Born (1888-01-19)January 19, 1888
Fort Mason, California, United States
Died February 26, 1945(1945-02-26) (aged 57)
Marshall Islands
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch US Army Air Corps Hap Arnold Wings.svg United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1912–1945
Rank US-O9 insignia.svg Lieutenant General
Commands held 20th Pursuit Group
5th Composite Group
Second Air Force
Air Force Combat Command
US Army Forces in the South Pacific Area
Army Forces South Pacific Area
Army Air Forces Pacific Area
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
*Pacific Campaign
Awards Army Distinguished Service Medal
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Croix de Guerre

Millard Fillmore Harmon Jr. (January 19, 1888 – February 26, 1945) was a lieutenant general in the United States Army Air Forces during the Pacific campaign in World War II. He was presumed to have perished in February 1945 on a flight when the plane carrying him disappeared in transit. Harmon, Frank Maxwell Andrews, Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr. and Lesley J. McNair, all lieutenant generals at the time of their deaths, were the highest-ranking Americans to be killed in World War II.[1]

Biography[edit]

He was born in 1888 at Fort Mason, California. He was from a military family; his father was a colonel, one brother a major general and another a colonel. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1912 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the infantry, serving with the 28th and 9th Infantry Regiments. In 1914 he was ordered to the Philippines, and two years later detailed to the newly organized Aviation Section, U.S. Signal Corps. That year he accompanied the Mexican Punitive Expedition and did aerial patrol work along the border.

Two weeks before the United States entered World War I, Harmon, then a first lieutenant, was on his way to France. There he attended aviation schools in Paris, served at Allied and American headquarters, and was finally attached to the French 13th Group de Combat as a pilot during the Somme defensive, for which he was awarded the Croix de Guerre.

In July 1920, Harmon, now a major and stationed at France Field in Panama, transferred to the Army Air Service, precursor of the Air Corps. In April of the following year, he returned to Washington where he served as a member of the Advisory Board of the Air Service. During the years of peace, he continued his training, graduating from the Command and General Staff School and the Army War College. He taught military science and tactics at the University of Washington in Seattle, was assigned as an instructor in the Command and General Staff School, and served with the War Department General Staff for two years.

From 1927 to 1930, he was Commandant of the Air Corps Primary Flying School at March Field, California., during which time he came into contact with the young men then entering aviation training. He commanded Barksdale Field and the 20th Pursuit Group for four years. In 1936, as a lieutenant colonel, he went to Hawaii to command Luke Field and the 5th Bombardment Group. In 1938 he returned to the United States to become Assistant Commandant of the Air Corps Tactical School at Maxwell Field, Alabama. After two years of service there, he was assigned for brief periods to Randolph Field, Texas, and Hamilton Field, California. On Oct. 1, 1940, while he was in command at Randolph Field, he was promoted to brigadier general.

In January 1941, Harmon was sent to the United Kingdom as an Air Observer — he was already rated a command pilot, combat observer and technical observer — serving in that capacity and as a member of the Harriman Mission until April. On his return to the United States, he was assigned as Commanding General of IV Interceptor Command, Fourth Air Force. On July 11, 1942 he was appointed major general, and a week later was placed in command of the Second Air Force, with headquarters at Fort George Wright, Washington. In December of that year he was assigned as acting Commanding General of the Air Force Combat Command.

On January 26, 1942, he became Chief of the Air Staff, Army Air Forces. With 30 years combat and command experience as a ground and air officer, General Harmon was well qualified to command Army Forces in an area of increasing strategic importance where air power was to play a dominant role. In July 1942, General Harmon was appointed Commanding General of U.S. Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, an area that was under Navy command. In November, Admiral Halsey assumed command of the South Pacific, and the two formed a perfect team. In 1944, at the conclusion of his mission and before he went to another command, Admiral Halsey wrote, "I was particularly fortunate in having Harmon as Commanding General of the Army Forces; his sound advice and wholehearted cooperation in attaining the common goal were outstanding contributions to the joint effort."

On February 2, 1943, Harmon was promoted to lieutenant general. Until September of the following year, he commanded the Army Forces in the South Pacific Area, and then moved to a new command, Army Air Forces in the Pacific Ocean areas (AAFPOA), created under the principle of unit of command in preparation for B-29 Superfortress strategic bombing operations against Japan from the Marianas. At the same time, he was "dual-hatted" as Deputy Commander of the Twentieth Air Force carrying out those operations, under the command of General Arnold.

Harmon desired his command of AAFPOA to be more than an administrative, service, and coordinating agency. He lobbied Headquarters AAF for operational control of all USAAF combat operations in the Pacific Ocean Area, and partial operational control of the B-29 operations against Japan, from his headquarters on Guam. Wearing his AAFPOA hat, he gained control of all Army and Navy land-based bomber and fighter operations when theater commander Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz named him commander of "Task Force 93" (Strategic Air Force, POA) in December. However this role brought him into conflict with Arnold's objective of maintaining absolute control of Twentieth Air Force operations independent of any theater commands.

The issue came to a head in February 1945 when Harmon clashed with Maj. Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, the new commander of the XXI Bomber Command, over command of five long-range fighter groups assigned to the Twentieth Air Force as escorts for strategic bombers, with LeMay prevailing. Harmon objected, contending that the result would be a seriously inefficient use of the forces. On February 25, 1945, a B-24 Liberator carrying Harmon, and Brigadier General James R. Andersen, his chief of staff, departed Guam for Washington, D.C. via Kwajalein and Hawaii to resolve the fighter dispute. Their aircraft reached Kwajalein Island safely, but disappeared the next day after taking off for Hawaii. The aircraft was never found and there were no survivors. As Japanese air power had been neutralized in the vicinity of the Marshall Islands for some time, it is highly unlikely that enemy fighters were the cause of loss. Harmon was declared dead on 25 February 1946, one year after he disappeared.

Legacy[edit]

Harmon Air Force Base, Guam was named after him.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hamner, Christopher. "Friendly Fire." Teachinghistory.org, accessed 2 September 2011.

See also[edit]