More than seven decades after he last heard German sniper fire, Jim Harrison still remembers how it sounded: “Snap, crackle and pop, like Rice Krispies when you pour the milk in.” Wounded by machine gun fire, nearly blown up and then struck by a hail of shrapnel, Harrison earned honors for his valor in France during World War II. Now 96 years old, he resides at Brookdale Arvada in Colorado.
From October to December, 1944, Harrison was a second lieutenant with a mortar platoon of the 397th Infantry Regiment. Over the course of two days in the Vosges Mountains, displaying the courage that won him the Bronze Star, he led his men undetected past a German foot patrol and one motorized unit to a point one thousand yards behind enemy lines. There, he spent 30 hours directing mortar fire to destroy German automatic weapons and sniper positions.
In December, Harrison came upon a group of Germans who had just captured an American machine gun position. They turned the weapons on him, striking him with 30-caliber bullets in the hip and leg. “As I was lying wounded on the ground, a couple of the Germans took out a hand grenade and looked at me,” Harrison said. “I thought they were going to throw it at me, but then they put it under the machine guns, blew them up and walked away up the trail.”
A U.S. medic rescued Harrison and placed him on the hood of a jeep. As the vehicle made its way down the mountains, mortar shells began falling. Harrison was hit by shrapnel; a piece is still lodged in his body. Surviving the ordeal, Harrison was hospitalized for two years, first in France and then in the United States. Despite the severity of his wounds, he says he has felt no long-term effect from them.
Harrison, who received the Purple Heart in addition to the Bronze Star, was born in Portland, Ore. Following the war and his recovery, he worked in advertising and sales. The grandfather of four and great-grandfather of four moved to the Denver area about eight years ago to be near family.
Reflecting on his service in WWII, he said: “I am glad I did it, because it needed to be done. And it taught me a lesson in camaraderie and getting along with people. But it’s an experience I would never want to have again.”