F1c James William Harris,

Unknown Sailor

F1c James William Harris

Brothers James William Harris and Markus G. Harris were on Navy ships a few miles apart at Pearl Harbor when Japan attacked on Dec. 7, 1941.

James, known as “Bill” to friends, was killed on the U.S.S. Arizona. He was a fireman first class on the battleship.

Markus, an apprentice seaman, arrived the afternoon before on a cargo ship, the Vega, bringing 130 tons of explosives from Washington state. The ammunition was being unloaded when the attack began. The Vega fired its anti-aircraft guns and was credited with helping protect the Honolulu waterfront. Markus survived the battle and went on to become a chief boatswain’s mate in the Navy and a captain in the Military Sea Transportation Service. He lived to age 80. He was nearly two years older than James William.

They were the sons of Porter Harris, a farmer, and Frances Martin Harris, a homemaker. James William, born Nov. 21, 1921, attended Holland High School in southeast Missouri near Louisiana before enlisting in the Navy in December 1939. The local newspaper said he had “many friends among young and old.” Hundreds from the town and nearby communities attended a memorial service in his honor at the high school in March 1942.

At least one other brother, Patrick, also served in the Navy in World War II.

James William and Markus were friends with two brothers killed on the Arizona — Andrew and J. T. Allison. News accounts at the time of their deaths referred to all four as residents of Holland, population 390, though the Census said the Harris family lived about five miles away in Cooter, population 466. After the war, the school dedicated five acres next to its campus as the “Allison-Harris Athletic Field.” 

Markus Harris visited his brother and the Allisons on the Arizona the night before the attack, but returned to his ship while planning to meet his brother ashore the next day.


Sources: The Democrat-Argus of Caruthersville, Missouri; The Steele (Missouri) Enterprise; Census; Navy muster rolls; USS Vega official action report of the attack; Census; Pearl Harbor Gram, issue 12, 1967. This profile was researched and written on behalf of the U.S.S. Arizona Mall Memorial at the University of Arizona.

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