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James W. Harris, III
49th Fighter Group, P-38 Lightning and P-47 Thunderbolt Pilot

In memory - James Harris passed away February 12, 2015

Harris was the first pilot assigned P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687, when it was assigned to the 49th Fighter Group.  In a candid interview, he share a bit about himself, his wartime service, victories and feelings about his former airplane.

Click For EnlargementBackground
I was born on May 6, 1920 in the Evanston, Illinois. My family moved to California during the depression. My father was a newspaper editor. I went to high school out there and then started college. I would have been the class of 1942, but the war came along.

Assigned to the 49th Fighter Group
I went to Australia, Charters Towers Airfield, and had P-39 Airacobra over there. Only had about 20 hours in a P-39, that was my 'training'! I was assigned to 49th Fighter Group. I was sent over as replacement pilots, and joined up with them at Dobodura, where they were flying P-38s.

Missions Flown
Mostly we flew our combat mission over Rabual.  When we went up to Rabaul, we lost a lot of airplanes. That was always bad, a long way there & back, and you would come over Kiriwina. The first time we landed there, all the natives were lined up to watch us, and the women were all bare breasted. Several of the guys lost their canopy, trying to get a better look, that was exciting!  But when they saw the girls up close they looked better from the air.  I remember we flew some missions up to Madang too, but I never flew to Wewak, those strikes were later.

Click For EnlargementAerial Victories
Harris' four victories were claimed on the following missions:
1) August 2, 1943
2) September 22, 1943
3) October 17, 1943
4) October 17, 1943

Click For EnlargementI wasn't that much of a shot in the air, I had to get right right on their tail. Richard Bong, who flew with us, had went out shooting in Wisconsin and was much better shot. I was not. We started out what they call a 'Christmas tree site' cross piece on tree were 100 mph crosses. Then got 100mil sites, that had a circle with a dot. That was what we had till I left. We didn't have K-19 or site or what ever it was called, that later P-51s had that would compute the angle of deflection for you.  We had nothing except to guess and shoot.

I never made ace! All my 'kills' were while flying out of Dobodura, and all while flying P-38H Lightning 42-66912.  Got one on head on pass while we were both shooting at each other, then, he lost a wing. On October 17, 1943 in a scramble, after we took off they were coming over with fighter and bombers.  I got two Zeros that time, a double victory over Dobodura. All  I can tell you about aerial combat, was although we might have started in a formation, as soon as we got into battle everyone went in a thousand different directions. Joining up never happened, you were out on your own once the battle was on. Nobody was covering your ass, except you!

Yes, I knew Richard Bong. I did fly with him, but these were on patrols, looking for something to shoot down. He was dead eye.  Only thing i recall, when he tied Eddie Rickenbacker's WWI score [of 26 victories], Rickenbacker sent him a case of booze as a gift, and I helped in the drinking. Those years over there were the best years of my life! Everything a 21 kid dreams about, adventure , action, flying - it was great.

The P-38 was my favorite plane, loved it! There were P-38 shortages from all the combat and strain on those that we had. Richard Bong stayed with P-38s. But the rest of us 'peanuts' all got put in P-47. 

Conversion to P-47 Thunderbolt
Click For EnlargementAfter checking out in the P-47 we went to Gusap Airfield. I was assigned to P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687. I never scored anything while flying in the P-47 Thunderbolt, I just had my other [P-38] score painted on the side. Also, a girl painted on the side of the cockpit. The plane was assigned squadron number 71. I never really like P-47D razorback, they were rough, only thing good about them was that they dived like hell, but were sure slow to get off ground. Oh, and the visibility from the cockpit was bad. They did have that big radial engine, that could take a few holes in it without stopping, that was on good thing.

Back home and marriage
I was out of there by the end of March 1944. I was sent to Mchort Field flying P-39 Airacobras. There is a funny story, I was profiled in Cosmopolitan [women's magazine] and had no qualms about using that to my advantage.  I got a blind date due to that article, I knew her for three weeks, then got married! We were married in 1944, and still together today 2004 - that's sixty years! 

After The War
Click For EnlargementI got out of service for 8 months, interviewed, ran into old general who asked me, "What are you doing in civilian clothes?". I told him I was trying to make my fortunes in the business world, but wasn't having much luck. He told me to go back into service, and he would take care of me. That is what I ended up doing. I was recalled to active duty, assigned to infantry, at Fort Lewis, WA shipped to Japan, ran hotels for Army for 3 year, with wife & children.

Further military service
I went back to states in 1947, came back went to instructors school taught them how to fly T-6's that is difficult to get out of the cockpit, and into the the back seat! I got sent into the first jet outfit, P-59 flew out of 412th FG in Palmdale, Santa Maria. Later I was sent to Guatamalla, to teach them how to fly P-51s. We had a few Mustangs from the California National Guard in the 412th, because we didn't have enough jets for all the pilots, these we later gave to Guatamalla. After that, I went back to Washington, DC and was involved with South America, from a desk in DC and also finished my degree at University of Maryland. Later I was Air Attache in Lima. Then, I retired from the military in 1971, a full Colonel. But, I went back to work, this time for the state of Texas. I did that for 13 year. Now I'm just retired 84 years old. I sit around don't do a hellva lot.

Discovery of P-47D Thunderbolt 42-22687
Click For EnlargementYes. I remember when the P-47 I flew was discovered in 1979. Honestly, I was not not really that interested.  at that time, I was still working and WWII seemed like a distant memory.  Only thing i wondered who the hell was flying it, and how did he crashed it? I later found out it was a bomber pilot flying it, and he is still missing, a damn shame. A couple people over there in New Guinea got in touch with me, Bruce Hoy at their museum and Richard Leahy, nice guys.

The Girl
Click For EnlargementNo, the girl was no one special! Actually, my crew chief, White, painted her, I had nothing to do with it.  He just painted a good looking girl, no story there that I know.  Richard Leahy took pictures in color that he sent to me of the plane and the girl on it, they are just beautiful - I have them here on my desk. That girl should be an advertisement for Sherwood-Williams [paint], she still looks pretty after all those years!

Feelings about recovery of his P-47
Click For EnlargementI did not know it was recovered, until Pacific Wrecks contacted me. No one ever asked me about it.  Interesting, well, how do i feel about it?  I guess since its recovered they will never find Lutes now. Kind of surprising they didn't find him, he probably died near the plane. I hope they leave the girl on the side. I don't have any feelings, about the airplane itself, but the fact that someone is missing from it is an important point. Probably it would have been a good idea to leave it up there on the mountain. If they are going to put it in a  museum, so people can see can see it, perhaps its a good idea.  But, if some rich guy wants it for himself, I am against that! I cant imagine spending money to recover an old airplane, there were so many of them back in 1944, I guess everything is valuable after long enough!

Jim is survived by his son James William "Bill" Harris IV (Polly), daughters Barbra Welch (Mark), Mary Margaret "Coco" Ketron (Mack) and Nancy Shovlin (Mike); 4 grandsons (Christopher Chappell, David Ketron, Jeffrey Ketron, Matthew Shovlin) and 2 granddaughters (Jennifer Harris Abram, Julia Shovlin); and 8 great-grandchildren (Jessica, Justin, Aimee, Sara, Jake, Ella, Lucinda "Lucy", Phoebe and Mia). Jim was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 66 years, Barbara Waller Harris.

Harris passed away on February 12, 2015. He will be buried on March 27, 2015 at Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery.

Obituary of James W. Harris III - May 6, 1920 - February 12, 2015
Thanks to James W. Harris and Mary H Ketron for additional information

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