Our father was a 2Lt. and co-pilot of the Wise Virgin and Wise Virgin II (Kendall crew) assigned to the 716th in Grottaglie, Italy, in the first group to be stationed at this airfield. He had enlisted on Thanksgiving Day in 1941 and was in boot camp when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Dad was shot down on the Regensburg mission on February 22, 1944. After being shot down, Kendall went home due to injuries and another pilot was appointed for a few missions to complete his tour. Afterwards, Dad, now a 1Lt., became the pilot. When he was shot down, he told very little to us about what happened. Our research has indicated that Kendall wanted to bail or crash land in the sea but Dad convinced him the odds of survival were minimal. They made land and bailed out at the minimum feet. Dad said that he jumped, pulled and hit. All of the men landed hard and there were some injuries. Dad landed on a destroyed brick building and hurt both ankles. People were coming towards them and they were unsure whether they were allies or not. Fortunately, they were allies. They were taken to town to the local hospital. While there for a short period, a fire broke out and his crew all assisted in helping the town, including getting minor burns.
After completing his missions, he returned to the States to his wife, Helen Harmon, whom he married in September 1942 and his daughter, Patricia “Pat” Harmon Sweeten. He went into the reserves and went back to work in construction. When the Korean War escalated, he was recalled into the USAF as an active pilot and trained pilots at Scott AFB. Major Harmon retired from the USAF on 31 October 1967 after 20 years of active duty and 6 years of reserves. He was stationed at 15 different bases during that time, including Alaska (prior to statehood) flying jets and 2 bases in England. He retired as a major and Chief of Supply at McCoy AFB. His family went with him on all but one TDY assignments. In the early 1950’s, base housing was not available and small towns had limited houses for sale or rent. Using his pre-war skills in construction, after training pilots during the day, he spent his evenings and weekends building his own house for his family.
Prior to WWII, Cecil Harmon was in construction, working as a supervisor at the age of 18. He had to drop out of school (8th grade) during the depression to support his family but continued learning through his life all the way through a Bachelor’s degree (University of Tampa) and a Master’s degree (University of South Florida), while utilizing the GI Bill. Cecil Harmon, a father of two children (Bruce Harmon was born in 1958), after retirement from the USAF, began a 10-year teaching career where he taught drafting, industrial arts and related topics at junior high schools in Tampa, FL and Independence, MO. In 1979, he retired from teaching and moved back to Florida where he lived in Tampa and Ocala until 2007. He spent his remaining years (passed away in February 2012 just short of 93) with his daughter and her family.
Cecil Harmon, a faithful Christian, was very active in his church throughout his life. No matter where he was stationed, he always sought out a congregation and served. He served as a deacon in all of the churches where his family lived for longer periods of time.
Cecil Harmon died on February 15, 2012, at the age of 92, in Raymore, MO, where he lived his last 5 years with his daughter, Pat. His wife, Helen, predeceased him in 1988. His children, grandchildren and 6 great grandchildren continue his legacy. His son, Bruce, and grandson, Matthew, both have experienced what Cecil Harmon did during WWII when they were passengers on the Consolidated B-24J, Witchcraft, in 2012. They also discovered why he had lost his hearing after their noisy ride! His children, USAF brats, were fortunate for his service as they grew up living in the far corners of the US and seeing the world. The USAF life taught his family that we were one, without regard to race, religion or politics. His children are proud of being children of “The Greatest Generation.” At the age of 12, he moved with his family in a covered wagon. At the age of 25 (the old man in the group), he was flying B-24’s in a war and jets in the 1950’s!
Bruce Harmon and Patricia Harmon Sweeten