Kodiak honors hero 40 years after fall 8-07

By Bryan Martin
Kodiak, Alaska (AP) - Daniel “Dan” Harmon is one of Kodiaks heroes.

He lies at rest joined to the earth he loved so well on Woody Island, a lone grave where there are few people but for a rare visitor every once in a while, a stranger, standing over a plaque that tells the story of a soldier who died in combat attempting to save the lives of others.

After 40 years, since he was hit in the heart while under enemy fire, Spc. 4 Harmon, a ranger of the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol, a detachment of the U.S. Army 4th Infantry Division, was honored Tuesday in Kodiak.

More than 100 people gathered at the Kodiak National Guard Armory, hosted by the Woody Island Tribal Council, where family, friends, fellow remaining members of his unit, officers and enlisted of the U.S. Army and U.S. Coast Guard, including the National Guard, and U.S. Rep. Don Young gathered to finally decorate Harmon posthumously. He received a Bronze Star, with V for valor. The Bronze Star is his third decoration. He also earned the Purple Heart, Distinguished Service Cross and campaign ribbons.

After the ceremony, a contingent of the Armory group went to Woody Island where they visited Harmons gravesite.

Family present included his brothers, Paul and Maurice Harmon, his sister Rayna Harmon Whetham, all of Washington, and his niece Margaret Roberts of Kodiak.

“This ground is sacred,” reads the plaque that also carries on it a picture of Harmon, his ranger, LRRP and unit patches.

His last words, spoken to his brother, Mitch, were, “So long.”

“I had a sinking feeling right then that this could be the last time that I would ever see my younger brother again,” Mitch said about Dans departure from Washington, near Shelton and Fort Lewis, during his last weekend before shipping off to Vietnam.

Harmon joined the Regular Army and began his tour in Vietnam on July 21, 1966, after serving in the Alaska National Guard. He fell June 2, 1967, a week before his tour was to end.

Harmon was one of four soldiers on reconnaissance waiting for extraction from a previous patrol in the Iadrang Valley of the Central Highlands southwest of Pleiku, South Vietnam.

“We were ambushed. We had been hiding in an old French building on the Cambodian border,” said Ron Coon, who was at Tuesday’s ceremonies, the only known remaining survivor and eyewitness of the ambush. One other soldier was never located and another died 14 days after the attack. Harmon, who had already been hit by shrapnel, was shot twice in the heart and died in the midst of battle.

“Not a day has passed since the battle that I haven’t thought of this man and thanked him for life,” said Coon, who was 18 years old at the time, and credits Harmon with saving his life. Coon now lives in Cook, Minn.

Coon said the four-man reconnaissance patrol was riding on three armored tanks when they were surrounded by a Viet Cong platoon of 30.

“We were hiding out and had sent for a chopper to pick us up, but we ended up with tanks instead. We were stuck on top of the tanks,” Coon said.

“We were hit all over with RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) and machine gun fire. I’m thinking, This is not going well,” Coon said.

“After I was hit, I passed out. Danny grabbed my web gear and pulled me off the tank,” he said.

“Ron Bonert, who died later, had taken an RPG between his legs. The tank commander behind us was going down with an arm that had been ripped off. Danny had already been hit. I felt bad that I couldn’t save Ron.

“But Danny climbed onto the tank into a bombardment of fire trying to get to Ron. He took two hits to the heart,” Coon said.

“Finally, all the tanks were disabled.

“It had begun at dawn. Ron was taken to the camp hospital when the sun was going down,” Coon said.

“After that, I lost track. Two had died. I was in the middle of a war and didn’t think about much but that,” Coon said.

“But, Danny was a hero. Its that simple,” Coon said.

It was more than three decades before the reconnaissance outfit members were able to talk to one another again about the ambush and lost lives.

That came about after a Web site was launched and members of Harmons family found Harmons unit.

Then in 2003, his family invited several veterans to Kodiak to a tribal retreat and family reunion. A gravesite ceremony was held then at Harmons resting place on Woody Island.

“We realized Danny was never decorated,” said Michael Lapolla, who was a 24-year-old first lieutenant in command of Harmons unit in 1967. Lapolla is a West Point graduate who now lives in Tulsa, Okla.

In 2004, another reunion was held in Fort Lewis, Wash.

“That’s when we decided something should be done to recognize what Danny had done. We decided to fix it,” Lapolla said.

Lapolla worked on the recognition for almost three years, doing the research and paperwork, getting eyewitness testimony, then congressional endorsement for nomination to the U.S. Army, all required for the post recognition to take place.

“It was approved in July 2007,” he said.

“It was an oversight. When we were running patrols, we just never put in for decorations. We were not thinking like that,” Lapolla said.

“I knew Danny as his commanding officer. I wasn’t a running buddy. The only thing then that mattered is whether he could do the work or not, and he could,” Lapolla said.

“You could trust him. He was a natural soldier, with natural ability; probably got that from Woody Island.

“There were only four or five guys in the whole unit that were absolutely trustworthy and competent, ones you never had to worry about. He was one of those. He had the instinct to do the right thing at the right time,” Lapolla said.

Lapolla said Harmons character is revealed through his caring for others.

“He was a volunteer of the highest order. He volunteered for the National Guard, for active duty, for the reconnaissance unit, and finally for his last mission.

“He was killed on a mission he did not have to make,” Lapolla said.

“When he died, he was volunteering to protect his friends,” he said.

“You can’t ask for much more than that. He is a hero’s hero.”

Information from: Kodiak Daily Mirror, http://www.kodiakdailymirror.com