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This Day in History: Roy W. Harmon, Medal of Honor recipient

On this day in 1944, a U.S. soldier engages in a heroic action. Roy W. “Bill” Harmon would later receive the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness.

Perhaps such selflessness had long been a prerequisite in Harmon’s life? The young man was one of 14 children! The Great Depression had hit the Harmon family hard, so they’d moved from Oklahoma to the fruit-farming valleys of California, looking for work.

Indeed, Harmon was still farming when he enlisted in the Army during November 1942. He spent more than a year in training, finally arriving in Europe during June 1944. By then he was a sergeant in the 362d Infantry, 91st Infantry Division.

His first combat came on July 12, 1944, in a wheat field in Italy.

The Germans were using haystacks to conceal their machine gun positions, and Harmon’s company came under attack.

Our soldiers tried to set fire to those haystacks using tracer rounds, but to no avail. Meanwhile, Harmon had no intention of sticking around and watching his men get pummeled. As Acting Squad Leader, he directed them to stay in position. “I’m going to see what I can do about this,” he said as he began crawling toward the first enemy position.

He crawled until he was about 20 yards from the first German nest, then threw a grenade to set fire to the haystack hiding it. The enemy jumped out and tried to run—but Harmon shot them down. The next enemy position was about 100 yards away, but Harmon didn’t even hesitate. He began crawling towards that one, too.

He was shot and wounded as he crawled, but he finally reached the second position and used more grenades to destroy it. Finally, he was able to turn and tackle the third and last German nest.

“He had been hit twice,” Staff Sergeant James Kenny later said, “but he kept moving into the enemy fire. When he was close enough to the last haystack he got up to throw his phosphorous grenade, kneeling, and he was hit and went down. He got up again, very slowly, and with the Germans throwing everything they had at him, he took careful aim and slowly tossed his last grenade. As it arched through the air, the German fire cut him down and he fell forward and didn’t move again.”

Harmon’s tenacity had been enough. The third German position was destroyed, and the American forces were able to move forward again. Harmon’s Medal citation describes his last heroic move as a “final magnificent effort.”

Harmon’s family would receive his Medal of Honor in October 1945, but one has to wonder if Harmon would be most appreciative of the actions of high school kids in Oklahoma many decades later?

In 2019, a group of students at Oologah-Talala High School discovered that their hometown was also the birth place of this Medal of Honor recipient. They raised money and erected a monument in Harmon’s honor.

“It just proves that great people come from small places,” one of the students concluded.

Yes. It does. But isn’t that what America is all about?

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