During the course of the Korean War, Major General Field Harris would suffer a grievous personal loss. While he served as Commanding General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, his son, Lieutenant Colonel William F. Harris, was with the 1st Marine Division, as commanding officer of 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines, at the Chosin Reservoir. The younger Harris’ battalion was the rear guard for the breakout from Yudam-ni. Later, between Hagaru-ri and Koto-ri, Harris disappeared and was posted as missing in action. Later it was determined that he had been killed.
Field Harris-and he was almost always called that-“Field Harris,” as though it were one word-belonged to the open cockpit and silk scarf era of Marine Corps aviation. Born in 1895 in Versailles, Kentucky, he received his wings at Pensacola in 1929. But before that he has 12 years seasoning in the Marine Corps.
He graduated from the Naval Academy in March 1917 just before America’s entry into World War I. He spent that war at sea on the USS Nevada and ashore with the 3rd Provisional Brigade at Guantanamo, Cuba.
In 1919 he went to Cavite in the Phillipines. After three years there, he returned for three years in the office of the Judge Advocate General in Washington. While so assigned he graduated from the George Washing University School of Law. Then came another tour of sea duty, this time on the USS Wyoming, then a year as a student at Quantico, and flight training at Pensacola. His new gold wings took him to San Diego where he served in a squadron of the West Coast Expeditionary Force.
He attended the Air Corps Tactical School at Langley Field, Virginia, after which came shore duty in Haiti and sea duty on the carrier USS Lexington. In 1935, he joined the Aviation Section at Headquarters, followed by a year in the Senior Course at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. In August 1941, he was sent to Egypt from where, as assistant naval attaché, he could study the Royal Air Force’s support of Britain’s Eighth Army in its desert operations.
After Egypt’s and United States’ entry into the war, he was sent to the South Pacific. In the Solomons, he served successively as Chief of Staff, Aircraft, Guadalcanal; Commander, Aircraft, Northern Solomons; and Commander of Air for the Green Island operation. Each of these three steps up the chain of islands earned him a Legion of Merit. After World War II, he became Director of Marine Aviation in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (and received a fourth Legion of Merit). In 1948 he was given command of Aircraft, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic. A year later he moved to El Toro, California, for command of Aircraft, Fleet Marine, Pacific, with concomitant command of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.
His Korean War service was rewarded with both the Army’s and the Navy’s Distinguished Service Medal. On his return to the United States in the summer of 1951, he again became the commanding general of Air, Fleet Marine Force, Atlantic. He retired in July 1953 with an advancement to lieutenant general because of his combat decorations, a practice which is no longer followed. He died in 1967 at the age of 72 and is buried next to his son, William F. Harris, in a small country cemetery at the Pisgah Presbyterian Church at Versailles, Kentucky.
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Distinguished Service Medal to Major General Field Harris (MCSN: 0-401), United States Marine Corps, for exceptionally meritorious and distinguished service in a position of great responsibility to the Government of the United States while serving as Commanding General of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing during the period 25 June to 31 December 1950. General Harris displayed outstanding ability in directing the rapid organization and expansion of the wing and its expeditious movement to the far east. He directed the wing’s operations against the enemy in Korea from 6 September 1950 to the close of the period, supervising and coordinating its varied operations from diverse locations, closely integrating its efforts with air units of other air units of other services supported in the area. Under his direction the Wing supported naval and ground forces in the execution of the amphibious landing against enemy held Inchon, Korea. His force next aided the ground forces in their movement inland and seizure of Kimpo Airfield. He then directed the rapid establishment of elements of the Wing at Kimpo from which locality they materially assisted ground forces in liberating the capitol city of Seoul and in driving enemy forces from central Korea. Thereafter he led the wing in its displacement to airfields at Wonsan and Yongpo, Korea. He directed the Wing’s operations from these fields in close support of United Nations ground forces operating in northeast Korea including their drives to the Yalu River and Chosin Reservoir. During the isolation of ground units in the Chosin Reservoir area, he directed the transport aircraft of the wing in the evacuation of wounded from a hastily prepared airfield in the Hagaru-ri area, thereby saving the lives of many wounded. The outstanding close air support furnished by his forces during the retirement of United Nations ground forces to the Hungnam beachhead was a vital factor in enabling the successful traverse of terrain occupied by numerically superior enemy forces, with a minimum amount of enemy interference and a minimum number of casualties. Under his direction the Wing established new standards of excellence in the close air support of ground forces, simultaneously rendering immeasurable assistance to the operations of ground forces by flying numerous harassing and search and attack missions behind enemy lines. His professional ability and inspirational leadership throughout were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.