Recon, 1/14th Infantry, 2010 Reunion
Lost and Found
By Tom Jones
The wonders of the internet recently allowed the Gold Star family of SSG Jesse Harris to experience what they have termed a “small miracle” in piecing together details of a fifty year old story.
Jesse was a career Army Non-Commissioned Officer serving with the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii. In 1964 he had volunteered to go to Vietnam on, what at the time, was a Top Secret ninety day Temporary Duty assignment as a helicopter door gunner in the Division’s “Shotgun Program”. He was well respected by his men and renowned in the unit for his skill and expertise with the .50 caliber machine gun.
In January of 1966 SSG Harris was serving with the Reconnaissance Platoon of the 1st Battalion, 14th Infantry (Golden Dragons) when they were deployed to the Central Highlands of Vietnam as part of the 25th Infantry Division’s 3rd Brigade Task Force. On 19 November 1966 the unit was involved in a major battle with a North Vietnamese regiment and SSG Harris was killed in action. As was customary at the time, his family was not provided any details other than the fact that he had died and this particular case was also complicated by the fact that Jesse had married a woman in Hawaii just prior to deployment, who was his official next-of-kin.
In the late 1990’s, after visiting The Traveling Wall in Redmond, Washington, interest was sparked in SSG Harris’ family in Seattle to research details of his military record and they came across the Website of the 14th Infantry Regiment Association. His sister, Anna Ellsworth, contacted me and began a series of events that included making contact with some of Jesse’s old comrades and joining them at 25th IDA Reunions, after joining our Association as Heritage Members.
In 2007 at Lexington, Kentucky, Anna and her Aunt Artia Clevenger from Mouth Card, Kentucky met and spent many hours with Ron Westfall, the Distinguished Service Cross Awardee in whose arms Jesse died in 1966. In 2010 at Boston they met and were photographed with more of “Jesse’s guys”, Greg Lunsford, Charlie Dinan, Ronnie Westfall and Bob Wilson, along with their miniature “Golden Dragon” statue.
Many pleasant hours were spent over the years as both parties fondly remembered and learned more about Jesse Harris. One thing that was never clear to either concerned whether Jesse had ever received any awards other than the Purple Heart.
That piece of the 50 year old puzzle fell into place in late February, 2016 when Anna was contacted by a couple in Everett, Washington, who related the story of how, years ago, as a 24 year old serving in the Navy in Hawaii, the man had seen SSG Harris’ award certificates at a Honolulu swap-meet, recognized their significance, and purchased them. When he recently related the story to his wife as they were cleaning up some of his old Naval papers, she suggested they track down this Jesse Harris and return them. They Googled” his name, found his obituary, and commenced the mission to find the Harris family.
That mission was accomplished in early March, but it took over a year to complete the circle. They researched Jesse’s sister Anna’s Facebook account and attempted to make contact in July of 2015, but the message they sent went unnoticed until March of this year. They recently met for dinner and a lasting friendship was formed as the three certificates were returned to the Harris family. Today the Harris family and 14th Infantry Veterans are smiling across the land!