Tom Harrison War Medals
November 13, 2011 by staff
Tom Harrison War Medals, More than six decades after being freed from a Japanese prisoner of war camp, a Utah veteran was compelled to relive the horrors and triumphs of his World War II experience this month when he received a mysterious package containing seven military medals, including the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star.
The medals have become a source of pride for retired Army Capt. Tom Harrison, 93, since they arrived in a box with nothing more than a packing slip from a logistics center in Philadelphia on Nov. 4, which happened to be his 65th wedding anniversary. But they have also refreshed painful memories of the Bataan Death March, POW camps and the comrades he lost during the war or in the years since.
Harrison can talk at length about his time as a soldier in the Philippines. But he talks about it much like he talks about golf, focusing on small details – be it the flight of a well-hit tee shot or the day he met Gen. Douglass MacArthur – and the people that surrounded him. He doesn’t dwell on his own valor.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor forced the United States into the war, Harrison spent months fighting the Japanese before American and Filipino troops surrendered at the Battle of Bataan. He eventually survived, without lasting physical injury, the Bataan Death March and three-plus years as a Japanese prisoner of war.
“It brings back memories, but also makes you feel like somebody appreciated your service,” Harrison said while sitting in his living room with the medals. “It also reminds me of the people I served with in the Philippines. I’m the only survivor from my unit now. I’ve lost most of my friends.”
About 20 years ago, Harrison “shook the cobwebs loose” on his war experiences by writing a book called “Survivor.” That has made it easier – but not easy – to talk about the suffering, the disease and the starvation that defined the years of imprisonment.
The medals prompted new interest from his family about the war, Harrison said, although he is reluctant to talk at length about his personal experiences. Instead, Harrison holds up a Presidential Unit Citation as one medal he was particularly pleased to receive because it recognized the soldiers he served with and trained.
His leadership and bravery earned him two of the Army’s highest honors, the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. While those medals are only given for extraordinary acts of selfless valor, Harrison said he doesn’t remember – or is reluctant to explain – what he did to earn them.
“I don’t like to talk about what makes a hero. It’s not something I like to broadcast,” Harrison said. “But my kids are impressed, and my grandkids say they (the medals) are ‘awesome.’”
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