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Cory Butterfield, AO1
Harris, Cecil Elwyn (Cece), CAPT.
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Home Town Cresbard, SD
Last Address Groveton, VA
Date of Passing Dec 02, 1981
Location of Interment Arlington National Cemetery - Arlington, Virginia
Wall/Plot Coordinates 66 820
Last Known Activity
During WWII, Cecil Harris became an Ace pilot and was regarded as the second most prolific Navy fighter pilot with 24 kills. As a member of the United States Naval Reserve, Cecil Harris's commission ended with the War. Upon returning home he picked up where he left off previously, completing his undergraduate degree at NorthernStateTeachers College. He began teaching at CresbardHigh School where he functioned variously as principal, coach and teacher. He returned to active duty during the Korean War and became a career Navy officer, serving 27 years before retiring in 1967.
Harris was driving his truck home on the evening of December 1, 1981, when he was pulled over by police. Though no bottles or cans were reportedly found in the vehicle, a Breathalyzer test returned a blood alcohol reading of .16, leading to his arrest. Harris told an arresting officer at the scene that "if he failed the test, that was the end of his life." Family members went to the Groveton, Virginia jail where Harris was being held and attempted to have him released into their custody. Their request was denied by a local magistrate. Just past on December 2 Cecil Harris was found dead in his cell, apparently having hanged himself in the interim. It was his 65th birthday.
Awarded for Actions During World War II
Battalion: Fighting Squadron 18 (VF-18)
Division: U.S.S. Intrepid (CV-11)
General Orders: Commander 2d Carrier Task Force, Serial 0396 (December 15, 1944)
Citation: The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Lieutenant Cecil Elwood Harris (NSN: 0-114286), United States Naval Reserve, for extraordinary heroism in operations against the enemy while serving as Pilot of a carrier-based Navy Fighter Plane in Fighting Squadron EIGHTEEN (VF-18), attached to the U.S.S. INTREPID (CV-11), in action against enemy Japanese forces on Luzon, Philippine Islands, on 29 October 1944. Quick to intercept two successive flights of Japanese fighter planes preparing to attack our bomber and torpedo squadrons as they completed a strike on Clark Field, Lieutenant Harris boldly led his Division in a swift assault on the enemy planes. Skillfully and daringly maneuvering among the hostile formations, he shot down one enemy plane from each flight and put the others to rout. Quick to intercept a superior force of enemy fighters descending in waves in furious attempts to wipe out our fighter protection, he dauntlessly engaged in the fierce dog fight which ensued. Successively knocking down two enemy planes closing two of our Hellcats whose pilots were unaware of their imminent peril, he effectively averted the certain destruction of these friendly planes and assisted essentially in the utter defeat of the entire enemy formation without the loss of any of our planes from enemy action. By his courageous initiative, superb airmanship and fearless devotion to the fulfillment of a hazardous mission, Lieutenant Harris contributed materially to the success of our operations in this strategic area, and his personal valor in the face of grave peril upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
Description Operation Torch (initially called Operation Gymnast) ( 8 - 16 November 1942) was the British-American invasion of French North Africa during the North African Campaign of the Second World War which started on 8 November 1942. Background A map of Allied convoys heading from the British Isles to North Africa. The Allies planned an Anglo-American invasion of northwestern Africa - Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, territory nominally in the hands of the Vichy French government. With much of North Africa already under Allied control, this would allow the Allies to carry out a pincer operation against Axis forces in North Africa. The Vichy French had around 125,000 soldiers in the territories as well as coastal artillery, 210 operational but out-of-date tanks and about 500 aircraft, half of which were Dewoitine D.520 fighters - equal to many British and U.S. fighters. In addition, there were 10 or so warships and 11 submarines at Casablanca. The Allies believed that the Vichy French forces would not fight, partly because of information supplied by American Consul Robert Daniel Murphy in Algiers. The French were former Allies of the U.S. and the American troops were instructed not to fire unless they were fired upon. However, they harbored suspicions that the Vichy French navy would bear a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebir in 1940. An assessment of the sympathies of the French forces in North Africa was essential, and plans were made to secure their cooperation, rather than resistance. German support for the Vichy French came in the shape of air support. Several Luftwaffe bomber wings undertook anti-shipping strikes against Allied ports in Algiers and along the North African coast. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was given command of the operation, and he set up his headquarters in Gibraltar. The Allied Naval Commander of the Expeditionary Force would be Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham; his deputy was Vice-Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, who would plan the amphibious landings. Allied operational plans Planners identified Oran (a large port with plentiful airfields within range of Gibraltar to facilitate the build up of Allied land-based airforces) and also Algiers and Casablanca (important ports and the major administrative centres) as key targets. Ideally there should also be a landing at Tunis to secure Tunisia and facilitate the rapid interdiction of supplies travelling via Tripoli to Rommel's forces in Libya. However, Tunis was much too close to the Axis airfields in Sicily and Sardinia for any hope of success. A compromise would be to land at Bone, some 300 miles (480 km) closer to Tunis than Algiers. Limited resources dictated that the Allies could only make three landings and Eisenhower who believed that any plan must include landings at Oran and Algiers, had two main alternatives: either to land at Casablanca, Oran and Algiers and then make as rapid a move as possible to Tunis some 500 miles (800 km) east of Algiers once the Vichy opposition was suppressed; or land at Oran, Algiers and Bone and then advance overland to Casablanca some 500 miles (800 km) west of Oran. He favoured the latter because of the advantages it gave to an early capture of Tunis and also because the Atlantic swells off Casablanca presented considerably greater risks to an amphibious landing there than would be encountered in the Mediterranean. The Combined Chiefs of Staff, however, were concerned that should Operation Torch precipitate Spain to abandon neutrality and join the Axis, the Straits of Gibraltar could be closed cutting the entire Allied force's lines of communication. They therefore chose the Casablanca option as the less risky since the forces in Algeria and Tunisia could be supplied overland from Casablanca (albeit with considerable difficulty) in the event of closure of the straits. Eisenhower in accepting this pointed out that the decision removed the early capture of Tunis from the probable to only the remotely possible because of the extra time it would afford the Axis to move forces into Tunisia. Intelligence gathering In July 1941, Mieczysaw Sowikowski (using the codename "Rygor" Polish for "Rigor") set up "Agency Africa", one of the Second World War's most successful intelligence organizations. His Polish allies in these endeavors included Lt. Col. Gwido Langer and Major Maksymilian Ciżki. The information gathered by the Agency was used by the Americans and British in planning the amphibious November 1942 Operation Torch landings in North Africa. Preliminary contact with Vichy French To gauge the feeling of the Vichy French forces, Murphy was appointed to the American consulate in Algeria. His covert mission was to determine the mood of the French forces and to make contact with elements that might support an Allied invasion. He succeeded in contacting several French officers, including General Charles Mast, the French commander-in-chief in Algiers. These officers were willing to support the Allies, but asked for a clandestine conference with a senior Allied General in Algeria. Major General Mark W. Clark - one of Eisenhower's senior commanders?was dispatched to Cherchell in Algeria aboard the British submarine HMS Seraph passing itself off as an American submarine and met with these Vichy French officers on 21 October 1942. With help from the Resistance, the Allies also succeeded in slipping French General Henri Giraud out of Vichy France on HMS Seraph, intending to offer him the post of commander in chief of French forces in North Africa after the invasion. However, Giraud would take no position lower than commander in chief of all the invading forces, a job already given to Eisenhower. When he was refused, he decided to remain "a spectator in this affair". Battle The Allies organized three amphibious task forces to seize the key ports and airports of Morocco and Algeria simultaneously, targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. Successful completion of these operations was to be followed by an advance eastwards into Tunisia. The Western Task Force (aimed at Casablanca) comprised American units, with Major General George Patton in command and Rear Admiral Henry K. Hewitt heading the naval operations. This Western Task Force consisted of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division and the U.S. 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions; 35,000 troops in a convoy of over 100 ships. They were transported directly from the U.S. in the first of a new series of UG convoys providing logistic support for the North African campaign. The Center Task Force, aimed at Oran, included the U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, and the U.S. 1st Armored Division a total of 18,500 troops. They sailed from Britain and were commanded by Major General Lloyd Fredendall, the naval forces being commanded by Commodore Thomas Troubridge. The Eastern Task Force, aimed at Algiers?was commanded by Lieutenant-General Kenneth Anderson and consisted of two brigades from the British 78th and the U.S. 34th Infantry Divisions, along with two British Commando units (No.1 and No. 6 Commando), totaling 20,000 troops. During the landing phase the force was to be commanded by U.S. Major General Charles W. Ryder, commander of the 34th Division, as it was felt that a U.S.-led invasion would be more acceptable to the French defenders than one led by the British; many British troops wore American uniform, for the same reason.Naval forces were commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Burrough. U-boats, operating in the eastern Atlantic area crossed by the invasion convoys, had been drawn away to attack trade convoy SL 125. Some historians have suggested the timing of this trade convoy was an intentional tactical diversion to prevent submarine attacks on the troop transports. Aerial operations were split into two, east of Cape Tenez in Algeria, with British aircraft under Air Marshal Sir William Welsh and west of Cape Tenez, all American aircraft under Major General Jimmy Doolittle, under the direct command of Major General Patton. Curtiss P-40s of the 33rd Fighter Group were launched from United States Navy escort carriers and landed at Port Lyautey on November 10. Additional air support was provided by the carrier USS Ranger, whose squadrons intercepted Vichy aircraft and bombed hostile ships. Casablanca Flyers that was distributed by the Allied forces in the streets of Casablanca, calling the citizens to cooperate with the Allied forces. The Western Task Force landed before daybreak on 8 November 1942, at three points in Morocco: Safi (Operation Blackstone), Fedala (Operation Brushwood, the largest landing with 19,000 men), and Mehdiya-Port Lyautey (Operation Goalpost). Because it was hoped that the French would not resist, there were no preliminary bombardments. This proved to be a costly error as French defenses took a toll of American landing forces. On the night of 7 November, pro-Allied General Antoine Bothouart attempted a coup d'etat against the French command in Morocco, so that he could surrender to the Allies the next day. His forces surrounded the villa of General Charles Nogus, the Vichy-loyal high commissioner. However, Nogus telephoned loyal forces, who stopped the coup. In addition, the coup attempt alerted Nogus to the impending Allied invasion, and he immediately bolstered French coastal defenses. At Safi, the landings were mostly successful. The landings were begun without covering fire, in the hope that the French would not resist at all. However, once French coastal batteries opened fire, Allied warships returned fire. By the time General Harmon arrived, French snipers had pinned the assault troops (most of whom were in combat for the first time) on Safi's beaches. Most of the landings occurred behind schedule. Carrier aircraft destroyed a French truck convoy bringing reinforcements to the beach defenses. Safi surrendered on the afternoon of 8 November. By 10 November, the remaining defenders were pinned down, and the bulk of Harmon's forces raced to join the siege of Casablanca. At Port-Lyautey, the landing troops were uncertain of their position, and the second wave was delayed. This gave the French defenders time to organize resistance, and the remaining landings were conducted under artillery bombardment. With the assistance of air support from the carriers, the troops pushed ahead, and the objectives were captured. At Fedala, weather disrupted the landings. The landing beaches again came under French fire after daybreak. Patton landed at 08:00, and the beachheads were secured later in the day. The Americans surrounded the port of Casablanca by 10 November, and the city surrendered an hour before the final assault was due to take place. Casablanca was the principal French Atlantic naval base after German occupation of the European coast. The Naval Battle of Casablanca resulted from a sortie of French cruisers, destroyers, and submarines opposing the landings. A cruiser, six destroyers, and six submarines were destroyed by American gunfire and aircraft. The incomplete French battleship Jean Bart which was docked and immobile fired on the landing force with her one working gun turret until disabled by American gunfire. Two American destroyers were damaged. Oran A transport of 116 Supermarine Spitfires sent by sea was assembled in just eleven days at North Front, Gibraltar. The Center Task Force was split between three beaches, two west of Oran and one east. Landings at the westernmost beach were delayed because of a French convoy which appeared while the minesweepers were clearing a path. Some delay and confusion, and damage to landing ships, was caused by the unexpected shallowness of water and sandbars; although periscope observations had been carried out, no reconnaissance parties had landed on the beaches to determine the local maritime conditions. This was in contrast to later amphibious assaults such as Operation Overlord in which considerable weight was given to pre-invasion reconnaissance. The U.S. 1st Ranger Battalion landed east of Oran and quickly captured the shore battery at Arzew. An attempt was made to land U.S. infantry at the harbour directly, in order to quickly prevent destruction of the port facilities and scuttling of ships. The operation code named Operation Reservist failed, as the two Banff-class sloops were destroyed by crossfire from the French vessels there. The Vichy French naval fleet broke from the harbour and attacked the Allied invasion fleet but its ships were all sunk or driven ashore. French batteries and the invasion fleet exchanged fire throughout 8-9 November, with French troops defending Oran and the surrounding area stubbornly. Heavy fire from the British battleships brought about Oran's surrender on 9 November. Airborne landings Torch was the first major airborne assault carried out by the U.S. The U.S. 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment flew all the way from Britain, over Spain, intending to drop near Oran and capture airfields at Tafraoui and La Sania respectively 15 miles (24 km) and 5 miles (8 km) south of Oran. The operation was marked by weather, navigational and communication problems. Poor weather over Spain and the extreme range caused widespread scattering and forced 30 of the 37 aircraft to land in the dry salt lake to the west of the objective. Nevertheless both airports were captured. Algiers Resistance and coup As agreed at Cherchell, in the early hours of 8 November 400 French Resistance fighters staged a coup in the city of Algiers. Starting at midnight, the force under the command of Henri d'Astier de la Vigerie and Josu Aboulker seized key targets, including the telephone exchange, radio station, governor's house and the headquarters of 19th Corps. Robert Murphy took some men and then drove to the residence of General Alphonse Juin, the senior French Army officer in North Africa. While they surrounded his house (making Juin effectively a prisoner) Murphy attempted to persuade him to side with the Allies. However, he was treated to a surprise: Admiral Franois Darlan-the commander of all French forces was also in Algiers on a private visit. Juin insisted on contacting Darlan, and Murphy was unable to persuade either to side with the Allies. In the early morning, the local Gendarmerie arrived and released both Juin and Darlan. Invasion On 8 November 1942, the invasion commenced with landings split between three beaches, two west of Algiers and one east. Under overall command of Major General Charles W. Ryder, commander U.S. 34th Infantry Division, British 11th Brigade Group from British 78th Infantry Division, landed on the right hand beach, U.S. 168 Regimental Combat Team, from U.S. 34th Infantry Division, supported by 6th Commando and most of 1st Commando on the middle beach while U.S. 39th Regimental Combat Team, also from 34th Division, supported by the remaining 5 troops from 1st Commando landed on the left hand beach. British 36th Brigade Group from 78th Division stood by in floating reserve. Though some landings went to the wrong beaches, this was immaterial because of the extremely low level of French opposition. All the coastal batteries had been neutralized by French resistance, and one French commander openly welcomed the landing Allies. The only fighting took place in the port of Algiers itself, where in Operation Terminal two British destroyers attempted to land a party of U.S. Rangers directly onto the dock, in order to prevent the French destroying the port facilities and scuttling their ships. Heavy artillery fire prevented one destroyer from landing but the other was able to debark 250 Rangers before it too was driven back to sea. The landed troops pushed quickly inland and General Juin surrendered the city to the Allies at 18:00.mor