William Frederick Harris

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William Frederick Harris
LtCol William F Harris 127-N-A45353.jpg
Lt Col William Harris
Nickname(s)Bill F. Harris
Born(1918-03-06)March 6, 1918
Lexington, Kentucky
DiedDecember 7, 1950(1950-12-07) (aged 32)
Changjin County, South Hamgyong, North Korea
Place of Burial
Pisgah Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Versailles, Kentucky
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branchSeal of the United States Marine Corps.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service1939–1950
RankUS-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant Colonel
Service number0-5917
Commands held3rd Battalion 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division
Battles/warsWorld War II

Korean War

AwardsNavy Cross
Purple Heart
RelationsField Harris (father)

William Frederick Harris (6 March 1918 – 7 December 1950) was a United States Marine Corps (USMC) lieutenant colonel during the Korean War. The son of USMC General Field Harris, he was a prisoner of war during World War II and a recipient of the Navy Cross for extraordinary heroism during the breakout in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. He was last seen by American forces on 7 December 1950, was listed missing in action and is presumed to have been killed in action. Harris was featured in the book and film Unbroken.[1][2]


William Frederick Harris was born on 6 March 1918 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky, to Field Harris (1895–1967) and Katherine Chinn-Harris (1899–1990).[1]

Harris graduated from the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland in the class of 1939. He was in A Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines[3] and was captured by Japanese forces during the Battle of Corregidor in May 1942.

He escaped with Edgar Whitcomb, future governor of Indiana,[4] and on 22 May 1942 swam 8 1/2 hours across Manila Bay to Bataan, where he joined Filipino guerrillas fighting Japan just after the Battle of Bataan.[5] In the summer of 1942, Harris and two others left Whitcomb and attempted to sail to China in a motorboat, but the engine failed and the boat drifted for 29 days with little food or water. The monsoon blew them back to an island in the southern part of the Philippines where they split up and he joined another resistance group.[6] Harris headed towards Australia hoping to rejoin American forces he heard were fighting in Guadalcanal, but he was recaptured in June[7] or September 1943[8] by Japan on Morotai island, Indonesia, around 1,000 miles (1,600 km) from Bataan.[9][10]

Harris was taken to Ōfuna POW camp, arriving 13 February 1944[11] and became acquainted with Louis Zamperini. Harris experienced malnutrition and brutal treatment at the hands of his jailers, notably by Sueharu Kitamura (later convicted of war crimes). Due to malnutrition, by mid-1944 the over 6 feet (180 cm) tall Harris weighed only 120 pounds (54 kg) and had beriberi.[12] In September and November 1944, Harris was beaten severely, to the point of unconsciousness, by Kitamura.[13][14] According to fellow captive, Pappy Boyington, Harris was knocked down 20 times with a baseball bat for reading a newspaper stolen from the trash.[15] Harris was near death when he arrived at a POW camp near Ōmori in early 1945. Zamperini provided Harris with additional rations and he recovered.[16] William Harris was chosen to represent prisoners of war during the surrender of Japan, aboard USS Missouri on 2 September 1945.

After World War II, Harris remained in the Marines. He married Jeanne Lejeune Glennon in 1946 and had two daughters.[1]

He was recalled to active duty during the Korean War.[2] He was the commanding officer of Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced) in the Korean War. During the breakout in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, his unit stayed behind as a rear guard to protect retreating forces. Despite heavy losses, Harris rallied his troops and personally went into harm's way during the battle. Harris was last seen by American forces on 7 December 1950 walking and carrying two rifles on his shoulders. He was listed as missing in action, but after the war when former POWs had neither seen nor heard of him, Harris was declared to be dead. He was awarded the Navy Cross in 1951 for his actions at Chosin. Because of his penchant for escape and survival exhibited during World War II, his peers and family were reluctant to accept his death. A superior officer held on to his Navy Cross for a number of years, expecting to be able to give it to Harris personally.[17]

Remains thought to be his were eventually recovered and interred at Pisgah Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Versailles, Kentucky.[18] His family doubted the remains were his, and conclusive testing using DNA had not been attempted as of 2014.[1]


Navy Cross

For his leadership and heroism on 7 December 1950, Harris was awarded the Navy Cross.

The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Navy Cross (Posthumously) to Lieutenant Colonel William Frederick Harris (MCSN: 0-5917), United States Marine Corps, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving as Commanding Officer of the Third Battalion, Seventh Marines, FIRST Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in the Republic of Korea the early morning of 7 December 1950. Directing his Battalion in affording flank protection for the regimental vehicle train and the first echelon of the division trains proceeding from Hagaru-ri to Koto-ri, Lieutenant Colonel Harris, despite numerous casualties suffered in the bitterly fought advance, promptly went into action when a vastly outnumbering, deeply entrenched hostile force suddenly attacked at point-blank range from commanding ground during the hours of darkness. With his column disposed on open, frozen terrain and in danger of being cut off from the convoy as the enemy laid down enfilade fire from a strong roadblock, he organized a group of men and personally led them in a bold attack to neutralize the position with heavy losses to the enemy, thereby enabling the convoy to move through the blockade. Consistently exposing himself to devastating hostile grenade, rifle and automatic weapons fire throughout repeated determined attempts by the enemy to break through, Lieutenant Colonel Harris fought gallantly with his men, offering words of encouragement and directing their heroic efforts in driving off the fanatic attackers. Stout-hearted and indomitable despite tremendous losses in dead and wounded, Lieutenant Colonel Harris, by his inspiring leadership, daring combat tactics and valiant devotion to duty, contributed to the successful accomplishment of a vital mission and upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.

— Board of Awards, Serial 1089, 17 October 1951[19]

Harris also received Purple Heart, the Prisoner of War Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation, the Korean War Service Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.[20]

Bronze star
Bronze star
1st Row Navy Cross Purple Heart
2nd Row Combat Action Ribbon Prisoner of War Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal World War II Victory Medal
3rd Row National Defense Service Medal Korean Service Medal Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Korea Medal


  1. ^ a b c d Brammer, Jack (23 December 2014). "Central Kentucky woman will be looking for her dad in WWII epic 'Unbroken'". Lexington Herald-Leader.
  2. ^ a b Hillenbrand, Laura (2010). Unbroken: A World War II Story Of Survival, Resilience, And Redemption. New York: Random House.
  3. ^ Lewis, John B. "POWs from 4th Marine Regiment". west-point.org. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  4. ^ Whitcomb, Edgar D. (1958). Escape from Corregidor. Chicago: Henry Regnery Company. OCLC 1508549.
  5. ^ Sloan, Bill (2013). Undefeated: America's Heroic Fight for Bataan and Corregidor. Simon and Schuster. p. 292. ISBN 978-1-4391-9965-7.
  6. ^ Whitcomb 1958, pp. 233-234.
  7. ^ Whitcomb 1958, p. 235. "I was kept in solitary confinement in a cell in Ambon for two months; and then on August 1, 1943 I was flown to Yokohama." - William Harris.
  8. ^ Whitcomb 1958, p. xiii. "Unfortunately, natives betrayed them there, and they were turned over to the Japanese. This was in September 1943. From there Bill was flown to Japan..." - Field Harris.
  9. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, pp. 201-202.
  10. ^ Whitcomb 1958, p. xiii.
  11. ^ Moore, Stephen (2 September 2013). Presumed Lost. Naval Institute Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-1-61251-455-0.
  12. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, p. 220.
  13. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, pp. 228-229.
  14. ^ Moore 2013, p. 236.
  15. ^ Whitcomb 1958, p. 233.
  16. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, p. 272.
  17. ^ Hillenbrand 2010, p335-337.
  18. ^ "LTC William F. Harris". Find a Grave (photo of tombstone). Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  19. ^ "William Frederick Harris". Military Times Hall of Valor. Retrieved 3 June 2015.
  20. ^ "William F. Harris". Korean War Veterans Memorial Roll of Honor at abmc.gov. Retrieved 3 June 2015.

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