Local World War II paratrooper gets special birthday
October 17, 2012
FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas (Oct. 17, 2012) -- Military leaders "dropped in" Oct. 15 to celebrate a birthday for a local WWII paratrooper and author.
Darrell G. Harris celebrated his 91st birthday with members of the Alamo Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association, including Lt. Gen. William Caldwell IV, commanding general, U.S. Army North, and senior commander, Fort Sam Houston and Camp Bullis.
Retired Maj. Gen. Guy Meloy III, a former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, was also on hand to congratulate Harris on his 91st birthday.
His three combat jumps at Sicily and Salerno in Italy and Nijmegen in the Netherlands during World War II, and his beach landing at Anzio, make Harris special to the 82nd Airborne Division.
"There's a unique bond among old Airborne troops; and when you add combat experience, it's even stronger," said Meloy. "You just can't really define it."
Harris, a soft-spoken great-grandfather and author of "Casablanca to VE Day: A Paratrooper's Memoirs," said his 91st birthday had another meaning for him.
"It means I'm glad I stopped smoking 20 years ago," Harris joked.
Harris, like many others, said he enlisted after Pearl Harbor.
"I was going to college when Pearl Harbor happened," said Harris. "We were hitchhiking back from Fort Worth (Texas), and the driver had the radio on. At first we thought it was a radio show."
Harris, a native of Strawn, Texas, enlisted from Amarillo, Texas, and, after landing in North Africa, served in the three parachute operations and the Italian campaign. He said he spent his enlistment in several demolition platoons, working with dynamite, TNT, Composition C and other explosives.
The humble paratrooper said service during World War II was what shaped him and gave him purpose.
"I'm proud to be able to serve my country," said Harris.
Harris' wife, Omadell, was unable to attend, but he said he'd celebrate his birthday with her later. Harris and Omadell have three children, three grandchildren and one great-grandson.
It's important to celebrate the contributions and service of veterans like Harris, said Fred Castaneda, chairman, Texas Alamo Chapter of the 82nd Airborne Division Association.
"We have to give homage and honor to these men," said Castaneda. "DG is very humble. When he talks, you are listening to living history."