He was the son of Clifford R Harris and Mathilda W (Westerfelder) Harris.
Harris was born in Westfield and moved to Ridgewood in 1926, living with his sister and parents at 419 Upper Boulevard. After attending Ridgewood secondary schools, he became a student at Franklin & Marshall Academy in Lancaster, Pa. He was 5' 10", 162 lbs. and an avid bowler.
Harris was employed in the bond department of the Central Hanover Bank in New York City when he enlisted in December 1943. He qualified as an expert aerial triggerman during training in aerial gunnery warfare at Harlington Army Air Field in Texas. He then went to Big Spring Bombardier School in Texas and eventually became a B-24 Flight Officer and Bombardier in the 10th Air Force, 492nd Bombardment Squadron, 7th Bombardment Group (H).
Initially their mission was to destroy enemy communications in Burma by bombing anything in sight - bridges, docks, warehouses, locomotives and rolling stock, railway marshalling yards, cargo vessels and naval craft, airdromes, barracks areas, depots, gasoline plants, landing strips, supply dumps and troop concentrations. For awhile in the summer of 1944 they ceased combat operations and began transporting thousands of tons of fuel and supplies over the "Hump" to the Fourteenth Air Force in China.
After just three months in combat Harris drowned in an air accident near Kurmitola, India on August 18, 1944 while returning from ferrying gasoline to Kunming, China. He was flying as a gunner aboard B-24J #42-73080. On approaching the airdrome, the pilot called the tower for landing instructions, giving no indication of possible trouble. While circling the field preparing to enter the traffic pattern, all four engines quit. Unable to reach the runway, the pilot attempted a forced landing in a water-filled rice paddy and crashed. Only one member of the 8-man crew survived.
Harris was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously with a citation, signed by General H. H. Arnold, Commanding General Army Air Forces, which read "Citation of Honor – United States Army Air Forces – Flight Officer Philip W. Harris: who gave his life in the performance of his duty, August 18, 1944. He lived to bear his country's arms. He died to save its honor. He was a soldier … and he knew a soldier's duty. His sacrifice will help to keep aglow the flaming torch that lights our lives … that millions yet unborn may know the priceless job of liberty. And we who pay him homage, and revere his memory, in solemn pride rededicate ourselves to a complete fulfillment of the task for which he so gallantly has placed his life upon this altar of man's Freedom." He also received a memorial citation signed by President Roosevelt.
His body was repatriated in June 1948 and buried in the family plot.
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