Harris, Alexander W.

Alexander Walker Harris
Born: November 9, 1925
Hometown: Greenville, SC
Class: 1946
Service: Merchant Marine
Position / Rank: Deck Cadet
Date / Place of death: April 6, 1945, Kerama
Retto, off Okinawa, 26-05 N, 127-14 E

Date / Place of burial: April 6, 1945, Kerama
Retto, off Okinawa, 26-05 N, 127-14 E / Lost At Sea

Age: 19

 

Alexander W. Harris signed on aboard the new Victory Ship SS Hobbs Victory as Deck
Cadet on February 14, 1945 at San Francisco, CA. He was joined by Cadet-
Midshipman John L. Danner who signed on as Engine Cadet. The ship sailed
independently for the South Pacific on February 25, 1945 loaded with a cargo of U.S.
Army ammunition bound for Okinawa. On its way to Okinawa the Hobbs Victory called
at Eniwetok and the U.S. Navy fleet base at Ulithi Atoll. From Ulithi the Hobbs Victory
sailed for Okinawa in convoy with six other ships.

The Hobbs Victory arrived at the harbor of Kerama Retto, the fleet anchorage and
logistics base near Okinawa, on the morning of April 6, 1945. That afternoon the
Hobbs Victory, along with the other ships in the explosives anchorage, the SS Pierre
Victory and the SS Logan Victory, were subjected to three separate attacks by
Japanese kamikaze aircraft. During these attacks the SS Logan Victory and USS LST
447 were hit and eventually sank. In order to stay clear of the burning Logan Victory,
the Hobbs Victory got underway until early evening when it anchored again.

However, within minutes of anchoring two more Japanese aircraft flew parallel to the
Hobbs Victory from about 3,000 feet away. The Hobbs Victory’s Armed Guard
managed to shoot down one of the planes, but the second aircraft changed course, and
headed directly towards the vessel. The gun crews damaged the aircraft but could not
prevent it from hitting the ship. At 1845, the kamikaze smashed into the Hobbs Victory
just forward of the Number 4 lifeboat, at boat deck level causing a terrific explosion,
killing all hands in the Engine Room and destroying the port side life boats.

According to accounts of the survivors the entire port side of the house and boat deck
were blown out by the explosion. Within minutes the port side of the midship house
was engulfed in flames which spread to the #4 hold. After thirty minutes of trying to
fight the fire the Captain ordered the surviving crew to abandon ship. The survivors
were picked up by the minesweeper USS Success (AM 310) and subsequently
transferred to the USS Gosper (APA 170) for medical evaluation and treatment.
Fourteen of the 98 men aboard the SS Hobbs Victory, including Cadet-Midshipman
Alexander Harris, died in the attack or of their wounds. Both Cadet-Midshipman
Danner and the Master reported that Alexander Harris had just finished blacking out the
vessel and believed that he was in or near his room in the midship house when the
kamikaze hit the ship. Despite the best efforts of a Navy fireboat, the fires aboard the
Hobbs Victory could not be controlled and the ship sank early the next morning.

Cadet Midshipman Alexander W. Harris was posthumously awarded the Mariner’s
Medal, Combat Bar with star, Pacific War Zone Bar, the Victory Medal and Presidential
Testimonial Letter.

Alexander W. Harris, was the youngest of Donald Ryan Harris and Frances Weldon
Walker Harris’s two sons. He reported to the Pass Christian, MS Basic School and was
appointed a Midshipman, Merchant Marine Reserve, U.S. Naval Reserve on July 1,
1944. While Alexander was growing up the family lived in North Carolina and
Pennsylvania before settling in Mobile, AL. Donald Harris was involved in the
automobile business. In 1941 Alexander entered Christ School in Asheville, NC, a
boarding school where his grandfather, Reverend Reuben R. Harris had been the
Headmaster. At Christ School Alexander was President of his Junior and Senior
Classes and the Gamma Lambda Sigma Fraternity. As a Senior he was named one of
the school’s Prefects and elected President of the Student Council. Alexander was a
natural athlete and was elected team captain for both the football and basketball teams.
In his Senior year, Alexander became the first Christ School student to win the school’s
highest athletic ward, the Athletic Trophy, and its highest overall honor, the
Headmaster’s Cup.

In a letter to his parents, the Master of the Hobbs Victory wrote,

“His willingness to do anything at all times to help out and learn was a
pleasure to see. He was exceptionally well liked by all the crew. There
were many clean jokes played on him in fun and he took them all in good
spirit. On thing he was continually kidded about was his enormous
appetite. It seemed as though he was always hungry and could never get
enough to eat. He was therefore often found between meals fixing up a
little snack for himself. His breakfast each morning was a wonder in itself.
It consisted of eight large pan cakes, an order of bacon or ham and eggs
and few other small items. It was a sight to watch him get away with it
and never stagger under the load. Now and then the cooks would add a
few extra cakes to the stack and watch to see if he could eat them all. He
took and relished all that came.”

“Your son was a fine clean and strong young man and it was a pleasure
having him sail with me. In closing, I extend my deepest sympathies.”

 

 

 


4 thoughts on “Harris, Alexander W.

  1. Ms. Lucia Nelson, Easthampton, MA, sent copies of the Alexander Walker Harris file.
    They include:

    June 6, 1944 letter from Captain McNulty to Alexander Walker Harris advising of his eligibility for appointment
    June 7, 1944 letter from Administrator E. S. Land to Senator Hill concerning interest of Alexander Walker Harris in the USMMCC
    June 23, 1944 letter from New Orleans USMMCC District C/M Supervisor to Don R. Hill, father of Alexander Walker Harris, concerning appointment in sufficient time before potential induction into U.S. Armed Forces.
    July 7, 1944 to Alexander Walker Harris from USMMCC District C/M Supervisor concerning appointment as Midshipman, MM Reserve, USNR
    May 22, 1945, letter from Captain K.F. Izant, Master, SS HOBBS VICTORY, to M/M Don Harris providing the family the details of the life of their son on board the ship prior to his death.
    Master’s Report on the Sinking of the SS Hobbs Victory
    May 8, 1945 letter from USCG to Don Harris regarding notification that his son was lost following the air attack by a Japanese suicide plane.
    April 23, 1946 Certificate of Presumptive Death from Maritime War Emergency Board.
    Undated newspaper clipping concerning Alex Harris killed in action; it outlines his life and honors at Christ School
    Undated addendum to Christ School Athletic Hall of Fame “Short List” concerning Alex Harris ‘44
    Two pages from the Veteran Net http://www.veteran.net From the History of Amphibious Group Seven-1944-1945. (Reports on the military action at Kerama Retto during which SS Hobbs Victory was attacked.)
    Two 8 ½ x 11 photos of Alex Harris. One is approximate age 10; the other is the official photo we have of him in blues in front of a large gun.

    We will use some of the material in the blog and perhaps in the text of the book. We plan to send these archives to the Academy Library when we are finished with them.

    George J. Ryan
    26526 Wolf Road
    Bay Village OH 44140
    440-835-3970

  2. Good day on this Memorial Day 2015. Alexander Walker Harris was my uncle. He was the brother of my father, Lt. Col. Donald Ryan Harris Jr. USMC (RET) and now deceased as of December 27th 2010. If it is at all possible to receive copies of the documents you have listed on this site regarding my uncle Alex, I would be most grateful to receive them. I am my Dad’s oldest son at 67 years of age and am trying to put together some history of my family for my children and my brothers’ children, and for posterity. I am not authoring a book or any such thing, but just trying to find some history to put together for my children and their children and the Harris Family.

    I am happy to pay for any reproduction costs, and postage and any time involved in responding to my request.

    I am a disabled veteran of the Vietnam war. I served with pride in the United States Marine Corps, as did my father.

    Thank you sincerely,
    Donald R. Harris III

  3. Submitted on 2015/05/25 at 5:58 pm
    Note by George Ryan:
    This message was received and we are pleased to say that our team has provided the information we had on file.
    From: Donald R. Harris III
    Good day on this Memorial Day 2015. Alexander Walker Harris was my uncle. He was the brother of my father, Lt. Col. Donald Ryan Harris Jr. USMC (RET) and now deceased as of December 27th 2010. If it is at all possible to receive copies of the documents you have listed on this site regarding my uncle Alex, I would be most grateful to receive them. I am my Dad’s oldest son at 67 years of age and am trying to put together some history of my family for my children and my brothers’ children, and for posterity. I am not authoring a book or any such thing, but just trying to find some history to put together for my children and their children and the Harris Family.

    I am happy to pay for any reproduction costs, and postage and any time involved in responding to my request.

    I am a disabled veteran of the Vietnam war. I served with pride in the United States Marine Corps, as did my father.

    Thank you sincerely,
    Donald R. Harris III

  4. Yes, thank you so very much for providing the information, copies of documents, letters and such, the book, flag, and nice remarks in your emails and phone calls. I am so very happy to be able to include this information in the packages I am putting together for my siblings (5) to be able to pass on to their children. I was so pleasantly surprised to find that someone or in this case a group, had undertaken to do so much research on, not only my Uncle Alex, but all of the men who gave their lives for the cause of our country while serving in the Merchant Marines. Thanks to the information provided I am trying to locate and request the medals that were awarded to my uncle posthumously in order to create a fitting “memorial box” to pass around to family member to display in our homes to honor Alexander Walker Harris. God bless each and every one of you! You have my heartfelt thanks! Sincerely, Donald R. Harris III

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