We all wonder where life will take us, he never wondered, he knew. John Harrison, a sophomore student at North Carolina University, wanted to fly helicopters but the only way he was able to, was by joining the Army. Not many would jump at the idea of joining the military, but he did… just to fly helicopters. Growing up he had a great childhood, a loving family and no regrets. With a clear vision in mind and the love for helicopters in heart, he pressed on with the hopes of making a difference.
It didn’t take long for John to get through Basic Combat Training, pass all qualifications and tests at Ft. Polk, L.A. and confidently begin his service in the United States Army, something he had aspired to do for so long. The transition from civilian to soldier was not an easy one though; it was divided into three parts…
- “The RED phase” is the beginning of your training, to prepare you for what’s to come.
- “The WHITE phase” is where he got most of the physical and psychological strength.
- “The BLUE phase” taught him how to handle weapons.
During the first several months in the military, John really enjoyed his time with fellow soldiers and instructors who only had “Tough love” for him. Since he had prepared well for the Army he was in great shape to withstand just about anything, even though he recalls the weather being too hot. It was so unbearably hot in Vietnam that they would drink 4 to 5 gallons of water, every day.
Many would be surprised how John expresses his take on joining the army, but this experience changed his life, his points of view, and his whole being. In the military you can train and prepare as much as possible, but nothing is like experiencing the challenges and traumas of combat than real life. John went to Officer Candidate School later, where he became Airborne Rifle Platoon Leader and Company Executive Officer.
Not long after, his unit was deployed to Vietnam on a USNS (United States Naval Ship). John joked, that although his accommodations on that ship weren’t great, the food was the best part. Since the ship was old, they had to stop at an island in the Philippines for repairs. While on the island, many of them stayed late in a club and almost ended up getting killed! Then after leaving the island, they came across the end tag of a typhoon and many were having trouble keeping their food down.
Finally, they reached Vietnam. They were told they would be safe because they were being protected by South Korea. One of the scariest and most unexpected moments in Vietnam was the first time he got shot at while walking in the mountains with his platoon. John thought to himself that he had been around shooting ranges so it wouldn’t be such a big deal…but as they kept taking on fire, he felt dumbfounded, he didn’t react, he didn’t really know what to do in that moment. The firefights in Vietnam were nothing like they had trained for.
John lasted 4 years in the Army, and said that it was nothing like he had expected. The military can train you so much, but you will never be completely ready to fight when it comes down to it. He was awarded the Purple Heart medal, because he was wounded during his service in Vietnam. He is thankful every day for not ever being captured as a prisoner of war (POW) and for being able to come home to his family. John retired from the military and went back to school to study Law. He became a well-known attorney and realtor in the Washington-Metropolitan Area. Later he went on to teach law at Bishop Denis J. O’Connell High School where he said he truly enjoyed his time with his students and learned a lot from their different opinions.
Now John enjoys his time traveling, being at home and just enjoying life. He has published two (2) books, in which he narrates his life experiences in Vietnam. From one’s first impression of John though, you wouldn’t think he was a veteran or picture him in the dangerous settings he described to me today. One thing is for sure though, John Harrison is and always will be, “Army Strong”.