COLUMN: Remembering, honoring Cecil Harris

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Farm Forum

Mary Ann and I journeyed to Cresbard recently to attend the annual Cornfest celebration. We went there because the theme this year was to honor and celebrate the life of Cecil Harris. Harris, some of you will remember, was a World War II Navy Fighter Pilot who shot down 24 Japanese combat aircraft. He was No. 2 in actual shootdowns in the entire Navy.

More about Harris later, but first a word about this tightly knit town and surrounding area of Cresbard. It has lost much of its livelihood but is still a vibrant community with lots and lots of civic pride and lots of folks who work very hard to keep the community alive. To all them, high accolades are in order.

They offered a free meal to all who attended Cornfest and from the looks of the crowds it was very, very well attended. And what a meal it was. So lovingly prepared by local gals and guys, and it was scrumptious.

I had the opportunity to speak for a few moments about the amazing accomplishments of Harris and we made an appeal to the Cresbard community for donations for a larger-than-life-size statue of Harris in his flight gear, which will be placed at the entrance to Northern State University. At this point we are shy about $40,000 of the $95,000 to complete this statue.

Cresbard will survive, that is for sure. With the enthusiastic willingness to serve their community, so many local folks will pitch in to most any endeavor they are asked to and do it with much aplomb and ask nothing in return.

In addition to being ambitious, the folks we met down there were so genuinely friendly.

Back to Harris. A long time ago when I was on the alumni board at Northern State University we decided to look for famous graduates. And we came across this name, Cecil Harris. What a resume this talented and famous veteran has.

He was a farm boy from Cresbard who was attending Northern when World War II broke out and he entered Navy flight training. He ended up on the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid, which was my old ship 15 years after Harris served on her. In just about five short weeks Harris became an ace over and over again. He was so talented that he was made flight leader during aerial combat because of his acumen of shooting down enemy fighter planes. Harris never took one bullet in his own plane.

Harris came back after the war and graduated from Northern and went back to Cresbard as a teacher and principal in his old alma mater. Harris was a very private fellow when it came to talking about his accomplishments in the air. When the Korean War broke out Harris was recalled to active duty, attained the rank of Navy Captain and never returned to live in Cresbard.

Sadly, Harris passed away in 1981, and never really received the recognition he deserved, such as the Medal of Honor.

Nuff said.

Gerald “Jerry” Krueger is a retired educator, coach, commercial pilot and farmer. Write him at americannews@aberdeennews.com. His column publishes Mondays.