Father and son receive Silver Star awards during special long distance ceremony
December 3, 2008
FORT CAMPBELL, Ky - Nov. 28, 2008 --A father and son simultaneously received Silver Stars Nov. 28, even though they were thousands of miles apart.
The pinning happened during a video-teleconference ceremony uniting Afghanistan with Fort Campbell.
Chief Warrant Officer Jonathan Harris, 31, a Blackhawk pilot with 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Regiment received his Silver Star in a ceremony in Bagram, Afghanistan.
Moments later, his father, former Staff Sgt. Gary Harris, 60, was also presented the nation's third highest award as well as a Bronze Star.
Soldiers earn the Silver Star for displays of bravery and sacrifice.
"We have a very high standard and we make sure that the few who do earn it have done so through selfless sacrifice. It's clear that [Jonathan] did that, and it is also clear that the nation owes a debt to [Gary]," said Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Schloesser, CJTF-101 commanding general. "It was almost 40 years ago that he earned it. I hope in some small way that we can pay back that debt by presenting him his award with his son's today.''
Through VTC, Fort Campbell linked up with the Combined Joint Task Force-101 headquarters currently stationed overseas.
Separated by over 7,500 miles, father and family along with comrades from Fort Campbell watched as Jonathan was presented the Silver Star by Schloesser.
Meanwhile, Soldiers from CJTF-101 watched a video screen at Bagram as his father, Gary, was officially pinned by Deputy Commanding General (Rear) Brig. Gen. Stephen Townsend.
"It meant a lot to Jonathan to see his dad get pinned, he wanted his dad to get the proper recognition he never received," said Kim Harris, Jonathan's wife.
Gary earned both medals while serving with 4th Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division in Republic of Vietnam in 1969, nearly 40 years ago. He was never formally recognized for his heroism until Friday.
His son earned the medal July 2 while deployed with the 101st Airborne Division in Afghanistan.
"[Jonathan] has always been much more of a Soldier than I ever was," Gary said. "I never thought anything about this ever happening the emotions bring a lot of memories and hardships of the many men that didn't come back," he added. "I think of them being the heroes."
Jonathan's wife was not surprised to see her husband awarded the Silver Star.
"I never doubted him and I think any military wife doesn't doubt that their husband would go above and beyond," Kim said. "Jonathan has said if the need arises, he would not hesitate."
While the awards were earned nearly 40 years apart, both Silver Star citations reflect similar levels of courage and bravery.
Gary displayed this courage on Aug. 15, 1969 as a squad leader in Vietnam. He and his company were patrolling near Gol Ree and were attacked with mortars and rocket fire. He quickly directed the members of his squad to return fire on the enemy.
As the attack died down, he moved his squad closer to the perimeter, which had been weakened during the attack. As the enemy resumed its assault, he directed his squad to return fire once again, breaking the enemy attack. During the engagement, he risked his life by helping medics aid wounded Marines and helped bring them to safety.
Jonathan also displayed bravery in the face of danger.
On July 2, 2008, Jonathan's, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter landed at a landing zone near Gardez, Afghanistan to pick up Soldiers for transport when his aircraft came under attack by enemies using rocket propelled grenades, a heavy machine gun and various assault rifles.
With the aircraft on fire, Harris and crew managed to fly it a short distance before putting it down again. After safely exiting the burning helicopter, the entire crew took up a defensive position. They managed to contact a CH-47 Chinook that was in the area to help extract them from the battlefield. As the Chinook landed, the enemy resumed fire.
It was then that Harris, who was helping one of his wounded crew chiefs to the helicopter, exposed himself to fire by engaging and killing an approaching enemy combatant.
He entered the helicopter only after ensuring that the members of his crew, the ground forces and the quick reaction force were safely aboard.
After receiving his Silver Star, Jonathan thanked his flight crew and the crew of the Chinook that performed the rescue operation.
"I'm so lucky to serve with so many great heroes," he said. "Without them, the outcome might not have been so good."
Jonathan also gave a heartfelt thank you to his father, whose life and service set the example for him, and jokingly added that he was kind of jealous.
"Dad you will always have one medal up on me," he said.
"Every time people thank us for our service, I tell them to thank a Vietnam vet," Jonathan said. "Dad I want to thank you today."
(Sgt. George Welcome, 101st Combat Aviation Brigafe, and Joshua Wick, Fort Campbell Public Affairs Office contributed to this article)