Pine Bluff’s Layman Harris served in the U.S. Navy from 1951-55, toiling on a salvage craft off the coast of South Korea during the Korean War for a short period before returning for the conflict’s truce signing.
Recently, during the course of considering his morality and what his obituary might include, he was reviewing his military records and discovered that he had never received a number of service recognitions that he was due. He thought that when his time comes, the medals might enhance his three brothers’ and other family members’ memories of his life.
So, he wrote a letter to Arkansas’ senior U.S. Senator, John Boozman, who directed a Navy determination of just what honors earned by Harris had been overlooked. Boozman notified Harris of the findings, and on Tuesday night at Harris’ Union Avenue home of nearly 50 years, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Steve Gray personally delivered seven commendations, consisting of the:
• National Defense Service Medal;
• United Nations Service Medal;
• Korean War Service Medal;
• Korean Service Medal;
• Navy Good Conduct Medal;
• Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation; and
• Marksmanship Rifle Badge.
Prior to bestowing the honors, Gray spoke of America’s military past and the armed forces’ dedication and sacrifice in helping to ensure the nation’s 237 years of continuing liberty.
“I tell you, it touched my heart,” said Harris, who retired as a heavy equipment operator at a Pine Bluff paper mill in 1999. “I told my brothers that I wish my whole family could have heard Lt. Col. Gray’s presentation. It made me feel even prouder to have served our country and even more honored to be an American citizen.
“It was really moving,” he continued. “It was a historical account of America at war. It caused me to have some sad feelings, but some good feelings as well.”
Harris said he wishes that “young people” could also have heard Gray’s account.
“I’m afraid that young people today don’t really understand the price of freedom,” Harris said. “I worry that they don’t appreciate our freedom like they should. My military service cost me nothing but three years and 10 months of my life, but others gave their lives and limbs in defending our freedom.”