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Daniel Harmon - An Alutiiq Hero

Daniel Lee Harmon 1946 - 1967
 
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Daniel Harmon in Vietnam.  Harmon Collection.
 

Daniel Lee Harmon was an Alutiiq man from Woody Island, Alaska, who volunteered to serve his country by fighting in the Vietnam War. Throughout his tour of duty, Daniel showed courage and valor.  At age 21, this soldier made the ultimate sacrifice. Daniel was killed while trying to rescue a fellow soldier after helping another injured soldier to safety.

 

Childhood

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Woody Island Childhood

Harmon Family Home on Woody Island.
Courtesy Woody Island Tribal Council.

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Daniel “Dan” Lee Harmon was born on January 31, 1946. He grew up on Woody Island with his mother, Nettie, and eight siblings. Dan’s sisters, Rayna and Leanna, recall the simplicity and happiness of childhood on Woody Island. They played with rag dolls made by their mother, had picnics, went ice-skating, and enjoyed the beach. Dan ran all over the island, often rabbit hunting and fishing with his cousin, Fred Simeonoff. Dan was a skilled hunter and he provided a great deal of food for his family.

 

Daniel as a child. Harmon Collection.

 

Enlistment

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Harmon at training.

Enlistment

As a young man living in Kodiak, Dan volunteered for the Alaska National Guard. During basic training at Fort Lewis, Washington, Dan spent weekends with family members living nearby. This included his brother, Mitch, and his niece, Margaret. They remember Dan’s big smile and his grin as he waved goodbye each Sunday when they dropped him back at Fort Lewis. Dan was known for his sense of humor and a smile that put people at ease. In spite of Dan’s easy going spirit, he was very serious about going to Vietnam. When he discovered his unit would not be sent to Vietnam, Dan went absent without leave (AWOL) for a day. He insisted on going, and in July of 1966, he began his tour.

 

 

Service

 

Image    Dan's Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol Patch

Vietnam Service

In February 1967, Harmon volunteered for the Army’s Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP).  He was assigned to the 2nd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division.  When the 4th Infantry Division moved into Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1966, they became responsible for covering the largest, most remote and treacherous area of the country.  Dan volunteered knowing the danger and he participated in numerous patrols, some involving ambushing small groups of opposing forces.

 

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Dan with a fellow soldier

On a mission from February 23 - 25, 1967, Dan was the radio operator on a four-man team.  During their patrol the team located an enemy mortar squad.  After observing the squad, they noticed their movement in the direction of a U.S. Infantry firebase.  Dan’s team acted quickly, relaying the likely location of the enemy squad attack.  With the information, the firebase bombarded the enemy position.  Retreating, the enemy squad spotted the LRRP team.  Dan summoned artillery support and accurately adjusted the position to provide them enough cover for a helicopter evacuation.  For his actions, Dan received a Bronze Star for heroism.

In March 1967, on point during a patrol, Dan was wounded in both legs.  His team left him behind, but he managed to crawl out on his own during the night.  He was awarded a Purple Heart for the injuries he sustained.

 

Letters

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 Sketch by Dan

Letters Home

Dan’s letters to his sister, Leanna, reveal his sense of humor as well as his artistic abilities. Jim, Dan’s brother, remembers Dan’s drawings.  He could replicate any illustration from a book and sketched on many of his letters home. From complete sketches to doodles, each picture shows his wit.  In closing one letter, Dan drew a film reel using red ink and wrote, “The End – A Dan Harmon Production – in color – yuk-yuk.

 

Final Battle

 

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Final Battle

In late May 1967, Dan’s unit was ordered to carry out a Battle Damage Assessment mission on short notice.  Lacking an organized team, leader Sergeant Ronald Bonert scrambled to assemble the mission.  Recently released from the hospital, and with just 5 days left of his tour, Dan volunteered to serve as the assistant team leader, along with SP4. Ron Coon and SP4. Jim Sommers.

After spending the night deep in enemy territory near the Cambodian border, the team began documenting a bombed area.  Surveying the area with Coon in the lead, Dan suddenly touched Coon’s shoulder, pointing out a North Vietnamese Army (NVA) squad in an ambush position ahead.  Avoiding the ambush, the team moved several hundred meters down a road.  Suddenly, two NVA soldiers jumped across the road into a ditch.  Harmon threw two grenades, but as they were arcing over the road, the NVA threw two grenades towards their position, both of which ended up being duds.  The team realized it was time for extraction.

Rather than sending a helicopter, the Army deployed three tanks and an infantry platoon to secure the team’s extraction.  As the tanks arrived, a 1st Lieutenant on a tank informed the team they were in the middle of a mine field.  The tanks backed up and the LRRP team climbed on top, heading towards enemy forces who detonated a mine under the first tank.  The third tank was also hit.  Trapped in the middle, the exposed LRRP team members suffered the brunt of enemy rocket propelled grenade fire.  Ron Coon was blown off the tank, injured and unconscious. Bonert was also severely wounded and immobilized on the burning tank.  Harmon dragged Coon to safety and despite the risk, went to Bonert’s aid atop the burning tank.  With Bonert in his arms, Harmon was mortally wounded. He was 21.  Bonert perished in the hospital twelve days later.


 


Rembering Dan

 

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Memorial Ceremony on Woody Island

Remembering Dan

In June 2003, family, fellow soldiers, and friends gathered on Woody Island to remember Dan.  An Russian Orthodox memorial service honored Dan and his cousin Fred Simeonoff, a helicopter pilot who also died in Vietnam. Dan and Fred, both Alutiiq men, were the only two Kodiak casualties of the Vietnam conflict.  After the service, Dan’s siblings reminisced at the site of their old home, looking at the foundation of the tiny house.  They remembered growing up on Woody Island as idyllic and enjoyed its beauty and peacefulness.  (Kodiak Daily Mirror, Harmon Siblings Recall Woody Island Past, Mike Rostad, ca. 2003).

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Dan Harmon & Fred Simeonoff as children

 

 

 

Recognition

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Daniel Harmon's Bronze Star

Recognition

During the week of the memorial service, fellow soldiers, Dan Coon, Mike Lapolla, Jim Umberger, and Ron Crawford spent time getting to know Harmon's family.  In their conversations, they realized Dan had not been recognized for his actions.  Mike Lapolla spent three years gathering information and completing paperwork.  Finally, in August 2007, over 100 people gathered at a memorial ceremony to honor Dan, who was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star with the “V” device for Valor and oak leaf clusters – his third decoration.

Lapolla, Dan’s platoon leader did not know Dan very well, but remembers Dan as a volunteer “of the highest order.”  He volunteered for the National Guard, he volunteered for active duty in Vietnam, for the reconnaissance unit, and for his last mission, a mission he did not have to take. When he died, “he was volunteering to protect his friends.”

After learning more about Dan’s upbringing, Lapolla realized how well-prepared Dan was to be a field soldier.   His natural ability made him an excellent soldier, and he “probably got that from Woody Island.” (Kodiak Daily Mirror, Kodiak Honors Hero 40 Years After Fall, by Bryan Martin, Wed. Aug. 15, 2007).
     
His colleagues Jim Umberger and Ron Coon also recognized Dan’s natural prowess as a soldier.  Umberger, who arrived in Vietnam on the same ship as Dan, recalls that Dan was “one of the best I’ve ever known in the woods. He didn’t miss nothing.” Coon, who arrived a year later, learned how to survive in the field by learning from Dan.  He told him “what to do, what not to do, and how to act out there.” (Kodiak Daily Mirror, Fellow veterans honor Dan Harmon, Mike Rostad, Friday, June 6, 2003).

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These soldiers not only remember Dan‘s skillfulness, bravery, and selfless actions, but they honor him.  In 2003 Umberger, Coon, Lapolla, and another soldier, Bob Crawford, helped to erect a fence around Dan’s grave.  In 2007, a bronze plaque was added to the site so people visiting Woody Island will always know of Dan’s sacrifice.


“Five eagles circled over the mourners during the service. As Father Benjamin came to the part of the blessing for my brother, one flew off and the four remained. I think we know what that means.”

–Lee Castillo