Marine survives being a POW in two different wars, returns home to live the American dream


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Charles L. Harrison was born outside Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921. Barely out of High School, Harrison enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1939.By August 1941 he was on his way to Wake Island, a vital staging area for the coming war in the Pacific.

Image: Harrison in uniform.Of the 449 Marines who manned Wake’s defenses when Wake Island was bombarded by Japanese forces a few hours after the Dec. 7 attack on Pearl Harbor, 49 were killed, 32 were wounded, and the remainder, including 20 year old Charlie Harrison, became prisoners of war.

For 45 long months, during which he contracted malaria and other assorted maladies, Harrison suffered under the hands of the Japanese until he was rescued at the end of WWII with less than 110 pounds on his 5-foot 9½-inch frame.

With his courage and love of country intact, Harrison returned home to marry his childhood sweetheart and start a family. He and his growing family enjoyed a peaceful existence until the morning of June 25, 1950, when ninety thousand North Korean troops pushed across the 38th parallel, thus commencing the Korean War.

On Sept. 15, 1950, U.S. Marines under the direction of General Douglas MacArthur made a surprise amphibious landing at Inchon, on the west coast of Korea. Harrison was one of those Marines. On Nov. 29, at the Chosin Reservoir Campaign, after a battle in which Harrison was wounded and for which he later received a Purple Heart, he was captured by the Chinese communist forces and again found himself held as a prisoner of war – one of only two Marines in U.S. history to hold the dubious distinction of being held as a POW in two different wars.

Harrison remained in captivity until he, along with seventeen fellow POWs, managed to escape six months later.

Undaunted and undefeated, despite years of imprisonment and brutality, Harrison continued to serve our country in Vietnam until he was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps as a lieutenant colonel on June 30, 1969.

This highly decorated Veteran of three wars and his family chose to move to the foothills of Nevada County, California, after retirement, purchasing a two and a half acre parcel high on a hill in the small town of Peardale.

Harrison became great friends with the Grass Valley police chief, and became an auxiliary police volunteer. He and his wife were active in the Grass Valley Historical Society; he drove the Nevada County Bookmobile and provided all of the photographs for “First Wagons Over The Sierra,” a book about the Immigrant Trail written by another Nevada County legend, Chuck Gradon.

This great American hero passed away with little fanfare on Jan. 17, 2015. Throughout his life he exhibited unfailing courage against insurmountable odds and never allowed bitterness or anger to determine the path of his future. How did he retain the hope and optimism that carried him through the remainder of his life?

Harrison described his own feelings on the train ride home after escaping his second imprisonment saying, “Why I had the Great Skipper up there guid[ing] my course into those long years…and both times brought me safely back into home port? Diagnosing my own feelings, I knew that I was a better Marine, a better man, and by far a much better American than I would ever have been otherwise.”

“No person who had ever known me well would expect to find me bitter and disillusioned from my double dose of hard luck. I thought of many others, however, who as casual observers would probably expect to see a very dejected and spiritually broken Marine arrive home this second time. If only they could know how to appreciate America as I do,” Harrison recalled.


 

About the authors: Leo Aime LaBrie is an Air Force Veteran, honorably discharged in 1955. As a trained draftsman, he worked for Autonetics Aircraft and Douglas Aircraft until his retirement. Theresa McLaughlin obtained a BA in English in 1977 and retired from the travel industry in 2008. She is a regular columnist for her local newspaper, The Union.  LaBrie and McLaughlin have collaborated on a detailed biography of Lt. Col. Charles Harrison, which depicts his life and spirit with honor and respect. “A Double Dose of Hard Luck”, with a foreword written by Harrison’s friend and fellow Nevada County resident, retired Marine Corps Gen. Orlo K. Steele.

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Comments

  1. Larry Sabin    

    Wow! What an honor it must have been to know and serve with this man. Not a Marine, but Army Infantry, I want to say with deep respect, Semper Fi to this great example to all, and to his surviving family! Words can not express my deep respect for his service in uniform, and out! This is America at its’ best and his living example of courage, dedication to duty, and service to his country should be emulated by all!

    I will print this article, frame it, and hang it in my office in remembrance of this great man!

    SFC S.

  2. Ryan Zarick    

    unbelievable, I as a Marine, have known about Lt Col Harrison, and never knew he lived within 30 miles of me.

    God Bless you and your family, and Semper Fi.

    SSGT Z.

  3. Harvey Smith    

    His bio should be taught in every school.

  4. Ret MSgt Bruce Cooper    

    They don’t make many like this any more. Thank you for showing us the way and making big footprints to follow.

  5. Bob Johnson    

    That’s very moving how he referred to God as “The Great Skipper”. It reminds me of the Deistic way in which America’s founders referred to God as Nature’s God, The Great Architect, etc.

    Bob Johnson

  6. Donald L. Engler Sr.    

    I would like to really think those who went before me and now after me, it takes a lot of courage to do what we want through in the time of our services. I am just wondering what did most of our congressmen and women do for our county in the past and even now when some or them our against us and do not feel we deserve nothing? What are they doing for this country?

  7. Oscar Pearson    

    An American hero – R.I.P.

  8. Charles Claypool    

    You have the same name as me Charles, it means strong. God bless and keep your family .Thank you for your service so much ..I served my country for 20 years, not very many people say thank you to us anymore..my God and a few others do, its not easy being selfless in a selfish world..but God always takes care of his children..again thank for your selfless service. I’m so glad I read your story you and your family are heroes..

  9. Michael T Morris    

    You can’t tell a Hero by looking at them, so honor all vets.

  10. David Dentinger    

    Charlie Harrison…… the truest rock of God and Country.

  11. Randy Hoffman    

    I sure hope that he was well compensated & honored.May you rest in peace Charlie!

  12. Laverne Poturalski    

    God bless you and all you have done for this country!

  13. Robert Blair    

    I have the utmost respect for these brave men. They over and beyond the CALL OF DUTY! As a fellow VETERAN of this great country I salute these great American HEROES!

  14. J Stuart Logue II    

    God bless you all, and thank you for your service. You are American heroes and words of gratitude will never be enough.

    1. L. L. Wilkins    

      YES!!! So touching. I’m so choked up reading this…very Noble of ALL those who served. My late husband included, TSgt USAF, Wilkins.

  15. Jay Englehart    

    I honor and respect all of our veteran heroes. Patriotism is not dead!

    1. Dan Newmna    

      Incredible and because people like this is why I signed up and now retired. Thank you sir for your service and the reason why this country is the greatest.

      1. Karen Murdock    

        My exact sentiments Dan. Thank you for putting vastly personal and passionate feelings into such a concise post.
        Thank you, Dan, and everyone else, for their Service.

    2. CWO Michael R. Metzler Sr.    

      You are a true American hero! Semper fi! Rest in Peace!

Comments are closed.