TDISH: From Cook to Hero

At the Battle of Guadalcanal during World War II, on November 12, 1942, Mess Attendant First 727px-USS_Harmon_(DE-678).jpgClass Leonard Roy Harmon was aboard the USS San Francisco.  Harmon was an African-American and, when he enrolled in the navy in 1939, he was limited to being a mess officer due to his race.  (This policy would change for new recruits starting in 1942.)  On the first day of the battle, the San Francisco was struck by a crashing Japanese plane damaging the ship’s radar and communications systems.  On the following day, the bridge was strafed by gunfire from another plane, killing the majority of officers aboard the ship.  Harmon ran to the bridge and attempted to help the wounded off the ship despite continuous gunfire.  He succeeded in getting several of his shipmates to safety before being struck by a shot that he knew would kill him.  With his last moments, Leonard Harmon positioned his body to shield a less-gravely wounded man, saving the other sailor’s life.  In recognition of his valor, Harmon was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.  On top of this, the navy recognized just how remarkable Harmon’s actions were.  On August 31, 1943 a Buckley-class Destroyer Escort was commissioned named the USS Harmon in honor of the fallen cook.  The Harmon was the first ship in United States history to be named after an African American.

Featured Image. “Democracy In Action – Poster Depicting Leonard Roy Harmon.” By Charles Henry Alston, 1907-1977, Artist (NARA record: 3569253) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.
Image 1. “USS Harmon.” By U.S. Navy –, Public Domain.
Source: Santoski, Teresa. “Daily TWiP – USS Harmon, the first Navy ship named after an African-American, is commissioned today in 1943.Nashua Telegraph. 31 August 2010.

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