Flying ace

Farm Forum

We all know about Joe Foss, the WW II flying ace who went on to become Governor and later Commissioner of the National Football League.

But what about Cecil (Speedball) Harris, South Dakota’s other WW II Navy flying ace? Whatever happened to Speedball?

Harris was a Cresbard, S. D. farm boy who graduated from Cresbard High school in 1934. He taught school for three years in Onaka, S.D. after a year at Northern State College, then returned to Northern to complete his degree.

While in college he enrolled in the Naval Reserve on March 26, 1941, a few months after Pearl Harbor and the beginning of this nation’s entry into WW II.

He soon earned the nickname Speedball because of his uncanny flying abilities and talent as a fighter pilot. By 1944 he was flying F6F Hellcats off the deck of the carrier USS Intrepid in the South Pacific.

Between Sept. 13, 1944 and Thanksgiving Day 1944, he shot down 24 Japanese planes. His 24 kills qualified him as a Flying Ace.

Unfortunately, Joe Foss, the Sioux Falls farm boy who had joined the Marines, downed 26 enemy aircraft, two more than Speedball. Joe got all the press.

Speedball Harris, the bashful kid from Cresbard, left the Navy after WW II, but was called back during the Korean War and decided to make the Navy his career.

After he retired from the Navy, he made his home with his family in Virginia, but developed a drinking habit. He was arrested several times for driving while intoxicated, and after his last arrest, police found him dead in his jail cell. He had tied his sweater to a high cell bar and then around his neck and jumped off a chair.

Harris was buried as a hero at Arlington National Cemetery, as well he should have been. He was a flying ace, and had served his country bravely in WW II and in Korea.

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