Veterans Day holds special meaning for Harris, who joined Navy at age 18
Wednesday, November 7, 2012 12:00 AM
Veterans Day has had special meaning for Neshoba native William Curtis "Billy" Harris since he served in the Navy during the Korean War.
Veterans Day has had special meaning for Neshoba native William Curtis “Billy” Harris since he served in the Navy during the Korean War. He is shown above at the Veterans Monument holding a photo of himself as a young serviceman.
"Veterans should be proud of their service," he said. "It was the best thing that ever happened to me."
Philadelphia's annual Veterans Day program is set for Monday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. in DeWitt DeWeese Park in front of the public library.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians will hold a Veterans Parade and Program on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Because of his health, Harris said he wouldn't be able to attend the Veterans Program but he will be there in spirit.
At age 82, Harris has a hard time getting around.
Harris was 18 when he joined the Navy on Jan. 6, 1948.
"I wasn't scared," he said of his youthfulness.
Harris was one of six brothers who served in the military: three in the Navy, two in the Army and one in the Marines.
"My mom and dad were glad for me to go," he said. "They were proud for their boys."
He remembers riding a train to San Diego, Calif., for his basic training.
"I woke up during the trip, looked out and saw a bunch of orange orchards for the first time," he said. "I wondered where I was. I had grown up between House and Union and never seen an orange tree before."
After a few months in boot camp, Harris was stationed as a seaman, second class, on LST-1146, a large ship which hauled fuel.
He eventually was assigned as a cook on the ship, preparing meals for an average of 200 crewmen.
"I remember one guy that I couldn't satisfy," he said. "He was a grumpy old dude. We had to keep our pots clean in case of inspection. We cooked fish on Friday, roast, chicken and vegetables on other days."
Harris spent a total of 42 months aboard the ship. He received 30 days of leave a year during that time.
He recalled when he turned 21 his crewmates threw him a party in Vallejo, Calif.
"There was dancing and carrying on," he said with a laugh.
Another time Harris and some of his friends went to Tijuana, Mexico.
"We almost got in trouble," he said with a grin.
While Harris served during the Korean War, he never was stationed there.
Instead he spent his time in the North Pacific Ocean. He remembers seeing Alaska, Siberia and the Bering Sea.
"One day the radar picked up something that they thought was Russian," he recalled. "They sounded general quarters and I had to man the 20mm guns. Luckily nothing happened."
When Harris had only five months of service time left, he volunteered to go to Korea.
"But I didn't make it," he said.
He was discharged from service on Dec. 21, 1951, as a commissioned airman, third class.
"It was the best part of my life," he said with a look of pride in his eye. "I had more money and we were like a family on the ship."
After leaving, Harris went back home and attended school in Decatur. He later worked as a bricklayer for 27 years.
"I didn't cook much after I left the service," he said with a laugh. "I've kept several mementos of my time in the service."
Even now after so many years of being out, Harris still fondly remembers his years in the Navy and likes to share a story or two to anyone who would listen.
"I'm getting old and I want people to know about what I did," he said solemnly. "Without veterans we wouldn't be here."