James Lindell Harris was born in Hillsboro in 1916 during WW I, and attended school both there and in Bynum. He was drafted into the Army in March 1941, prior to the United States’ involvement in WW II, and he received a battlefield commission three years later.
By October 7, 1944 he was serving as a second lieutenant in the 756th Tank Battalion. On that day, at Vagney, France, he commanded an M4 Sherman tank in a hunt for an enemy raiding party which had infiltrated Allied lines. After moving ahead of his tank on foot to search for the enemy, he was seriously wounded by hostile fire. He managed to crawl back to his tank and continued to lead his crew, but was again severely wounded in the ensuing firefight. He refused medical attention until another wounded man had been evacuated, and subsequently died of his injuries at the age of 28.
For these actions, Harris was posthumously awarded the United States military's highest decoration, the Medal of Honor, six months later, on April 23, 1945.
Second Lieutenant Harris' official Medal of Honor citation reads:
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"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 7 October 1944, in Vagney, France. At 9 p.m. an enemy raiding party, comprising a tank and 2 platoons of infantry, infiltrated through the lines under cover of mist and darkness and attacked an infantry battalion command post with hand grenades, retiring a short distance to an ambush position on hearing the approach of the M-4 tank commanded by 2d Lt. Harris. Realizing the need for bold aggressive action, 2d Lt. Harris ordered his tank to halt while he proceeded on foot, fully 10 yards ahead of his 6-man patrol and armed only with a service pistol, to probe the darkness for the enemy. Although struck down and mortally wounded by machinegun bullets which penetrated his solar plexus, he crawled back to his tank, leaving a trail of blood behind him, and, too weak to climb inside it, issued fire orders while lying on the road between the 2 contending armored vehicles.
Although the tank which he commanded was destroyed in the course of the fire fight, he stood the enemy off until friendly tanks, preparing to come to his aid, caused the enemy to withdraw and thereby lose an opportunity to kill or capture the entire battalion command personnel. Suffering a second wound, which severed his leg at the hip, in the course of this tank duel, 2d Lt. Harris refused aid until after a wounded member of his crew had been carried to safety. He died before he could be given medical attention."
In 1944, Vagney, France erected a plaque commemorating the 50th anniversary of its liberation. The plaque honors James Harris specifically by name, along with the rest of his division's efforts in the liberation of the region. It is located on the spot where Harris and several other gunners were killed.
James Harris' medals shown at the top of this page include, from left to right:
- Bronze Star Medal
- Purple Heart
- Good Conduct Medal
- American Defense Medal
- European - African - Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
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