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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.
Second-highest scoring U.S. Navy ace of World War Two, Hellcat pilot
Here was another Pacific ace from the inland state of South Dakota. Born in 1916, he was attending Northern State Teachers' College when WWII started. He joined the Navy before Pearl Harbor, and was appointed an aviation cadet. He trained at Minneapolis and Corpus Christi, and in April 1942 became part of VGF-27, followed by more training. VGF-27, on board the escort carrier Suwanee CVE-27, took part in the Operation Torch landings in North Africa. In early 1943, Suwanee sailed to the southwest Pacific to support operations in the Solomons. Because the escort carrier was so small, her Wildcat-equipped fighter squadron was detached to operate from land, and was re-designated VF-27. Harris served here, shooting down two Japanese planes.
Later, he flew F6F Hellcats for VF-18, based on the carrier USS Intrepid, CV-11. He downed 3 Hamps and a Zero on Sept. 13, 1944.
On October 12, 1944, he embarked on a memorable mission, the war's first air strike at Jap airfields on Formosa, in preparation for the liberation of the Philippines. Following the invasion of the Marianas in June-August, under Admiral Nimitz, and General MacArthur's drive from New Guinea to the south, the Americans were ready to make good on the General's famous pledge "I shall return."
On the 12th, the Fast Carrier Task Force began three days of strikes against the large Japanese air forces on Formosa. VF-18 flew cover for the torpedo squadron, VT-18, and the dive-bombing squadron, VB-18. Harris was one of 16 pilots from VF-18 participating in the day's fighter sweep, launched before dawn in order to catch the enemy aircraft on the ground at first light.
VF-18 flew northwest from the Intrepid, to hit an airfield on the northeastern corner of Formosa, as squadron CO Lt. Cdr. Ed Murphy had briefed them the previous night. On schedule, all the Hellcats catapulted off the carrier, and began the slow climb to altitude. Murphy's own division of four planes was in the lead, the second division behind and to his right. Behind the second division, and well to the left was Harris' third division. The fourth division flew behind and to the left of Harris; all climbing at 150 knots. Many other planes from Task Force 38 carriers accompanied VF-18. All maintained radio silence, as they leveled off at 15,000 feet.
As they approached Formosa, they pointed their noses downward and began to gain speed. When Harris, his wingman Burley, and Lt. Bill Zeimer's section approached the field, five enemy bombers had just taken off from the field. In a few seconds Zeimer's gunfire tore into and exploded the first bomber. Harris soon added one of his own. They turned and both quickly splashed another bomber each. Easy so far, but Zeroes appeared up above, dove down and shot up Zeimer's plane. His chute opened and Zeimer floated down. His wingman, DiBatista, locked onto the Zero and avenged Zeimer's loss. Another Zero dived onto DiBatista, and hit him with 20mm cannon fire. But in the deadly round-robin of aerial combat, Harris got behind this Zero and his concentrated 50 caliber fire took a heavy toll. The Zero crashed into the trees and blew up, for Harris' third victory of the day.
While escorting the DiBatista's damaged plane back to Intrepid, he downed another Zero, his fourth of the day.
He followed this up by shooting down three Judys on the 14th. His mission on the 29th earned him a Navy Cross. Over Luzon, he intercepted two flights of Japanese fighters that were preparing to hit American bombers and torpedo planes. He led his division to the attack, downing four and disrupting the remainder. Harris accumulated a total of 24 victories against the Japanese (the second highest scoring US Navy ace). He was out of action from November, 1944, when the Intrepid was badly damaged in a kamikaze attack. He earned the Navy Cross, the DFC, a Silver Star, and two Gold Stars.