In memory - James Harris passed away on February 12, 2015
Harris was the first
pilot assigned P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687,
when it was assigned to the 49th Fighter Group. In a candid interview,
he share a bit about himself, his wartime service, victories
and feelings about his former airplane.
I was born on May 6, 1920 in the Evanston, Illinois. My family moved to California during the depression.
My father was a newspaper editor. I went to high school out there and
then started college. I would have been the class of 1942, but the
war came along.
Assigned to the 49th Fighter Group
I went to Australia, Charters Towers Airfield, and had P-39 Airacobra over there. Only had about 20 hours in a P-39,
that was my 'training'! I was assigned to 49th Fighter Group. I was sent
over as replacement pilots, and joined up with them at Dobodura,
where they were flying P-38s.
Mostly we flew our combat mission over Rabual. When
we went up to Rabaul, we lost a lot of airplanes. That was always bad,
a long way there & back, and you would come over Kiriwina.
The first time we landed there, all the natives were lined up to watch
us, and the women were all bare breasted. Several of the guys lost their
canopy, trying to get a better look, that was exciting! But when
they saw the girls up close they looked better from the air. I
remember we flew some missions up to Madang too, but I never flew to Wewak, those strikes were later.
Harris' four victories were claimed on the following missions:
1) August 2, 1943
3) October 17, 1943
4) October 17, 1943
I wasn't that much of a shot in the air, I had to get
right right on their tail. Richard Bong, who flew with us, had went
out shooting in Wisconsin and was much better shot. I was not. We started
out what they call a 'Christmas tree site' cross piece on tree were
100 mph crosses. Then got 100mil sites, that had a circle with
a dot. That was what we had till I left. We didn't have K-19 or site
or what ever it was called, that later P-51s had that would compute
the angle of deflection for you. We had nothing except to guess
never made ace! All my 'kills' were while flying out of Dobodura, and
all while flying P-38H Lightning 42-66912. Got one on head on pass while we were both shooting
at each other, then, he lost a wing. On October 17, 1943 in a scramble, after we
took off they were coming over with fighter and bombers. I got
two Zeros that time, a double victory over Dobodura. All I can
tell you about aerial combat, was although we might have started in
a formation, as soon as we got into battle everyone went in a thousand
different directions. Joining up never happened, you were out on your
own once the battle was on. Nobody was covering your ass, except you!
Yes, I knew Richard Bong. I did fly with him,
but these were on patrols, looking for something to shoot down. He
was dead eye. Only thing i recall, when
he tied Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI score [of 26 victories], Rickenbacker
sent him a case of booze as a gift, and I helped in the drinking. Those
years over there were the best years of my life! Everything a 21 kid
dreams about, adventure , action, flying - it was great.
The P-38 was my favorite plane, loved it! There were P-38 shortages from all the combat and strain on
those that we had. Richard Bong stayed with P-38s. But the rest of us 'peanuts' all got
put in P-47.
Conversion to P-47 Thunderbolt
checking out in the P-47 we went to Gusap Airfield. I was assigned to P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687. I never scored anything while flying in the P-47 Thunderbolt, I just had my other
[P-38] score painted on the side. Also, a girl painted on the side of the cockpit. The plane was assigned squadron number 71. I never really like P-47D
razorback, they were rough, only thing good about them was that
they dived like hell, but were sure slow to get off ground. Oh,
and the visibility from the cockpit was bad. They did have that
big radial engine, that could take a few holes in it without stopping,
that was on good thing.
Back home and marriage
I was out of there
by the end of March 1944. I
was sent to Mchort Field flying P-39 Airacobras. There is a funny
story, I was profiled in Cosmopolitan [women's magazine] and had
no qualms about using that to my advantage. I got a blind date
due to that article, I knew her for three weeks, then got married!
We were married in 1944, and still together today 2004 - that's
After The War
I got out of service for 8 months, interviewed, ran into old general
who asked me, "What are you doing in civilian clothes?".
I told him I was trying to make my fortunes in the business world,
but wasn't having much luck. He told me to go back into service,
and he would take care of me. That is what I ended up doing. I
was recalled to active duty, assigned to infantry, at Fort Lewis,
WA shipped to Japan, ran hotels for Army for 3 year, with wife & children.
Further military service
I went back to states in 1947,
came back went to instructors school taught them how to fly T-6's that
is difficult to get out of the cockpit, and into the the back seat!
I got sent into the first jet outfit, P-59 flew out of 412th FG in
Palmdale, Santa Maria. Later I was sent to Guatamalla, to teach them
how to fly P-51s. We had a few Mustangs from the California National
Guard in the 412th, because we didn't have enough jets for all the
pilots, these we later gave to Guatamalla. After that, I went back
to Washington, DC and was involved with South America, from a desk
in DC and also finished my degree at University of Maryland. Later
I was Air Attache in Lima. Then, I retired from the military in 1971,
a full Colonel. But, I went back to work, this time for the state of
Texas. I did that for 13 year. Now I'm just retired 84 years old. I
sit around don't do a hellva lot.
Discovery of P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687
Yes. I remember when the P-47 I flew was discovered
in 1979. Honestly, I was not not really that interested. at that
time, I was still working and WWII seemed like a distant memory. Only
thing i wondered who the hell was flying it, and how did he crashed it?
I later found out it was a bomber pilot flying it, and he is still missing,
a damn shame. A couple people over there in New Guinea
got in touch with me, Bruce Hoy at their museum and Richard Leahy, nice
the girl was no one special! Actually, my crew chief, White, painted
her, I had nothing to do with it. He just painted a good looking
girl, no story there that I know. Richard
Leahy took pictures in color that he sent to me of the plane and
the girl on it, they are just beautiful - I have them here on my
desk. That girl should be an advertisement for Sherwood-Williams
[paint], she still looks pretty after all those years!
Feelings about recovery of his P-47
I did not know it was recovered, until Pacific Wrecks contacted
me. No one ever asked me about it. Interesting,
well, how do i feel about it? I
guess since its recovered they will never find Lutes now. Kind
of surprising they didn't find him, he probably died near the plane.
I hope they leave the girl on the side. I don't have any feelings,
about the airplane itself, but the fact that someone is missing from
it is an important point. Probably it would
have been a good idea to leave it up there on the mountain. If they
are going to put it in a museum,
so people can see can see it, perhaps its a good idea. But,
if some rich guy wants it for himself, I am against that! I
cant imagine spending money to recover an old airplane, there were
so many of them back in 1944, I guess everything is valuable after
Jim is survived by his son James William "Bill" Harris IV (Polly), daughters Barbra Welch (Mark), Mary Margaret "Coco" Ketron (Mack) and Nancy Shovlin (Mike); 4 grandsons (Christopher Chappell, David Ketron, Jeffrey Ketron, Matthew Shovlin) and 2 granddaughters (Jennifer Harris Abram, Julia Shovlin); and 8 great-grandchildren (Jessica, Justin, Aimee, Sara, Jake, Ella, Lucinda "Lucy", Phoebe and Mia). Jim was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 66 years, Barbara Waller Harris.
Harris passed away on February 12, 2015. He will be buried on March 27, 2015 at Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery.
Obituary of James W. Harris III - May 6, 1920 - February 12, 2015
Thanks to James W. Harris and Mary H Ketron for additional information
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