CAMERON, W.Va. (WTRF) – William “Bill” Harris enlisted in the Navy when he was just 18 years old in August of 1943.
His service took him from Marshall County to the U.S.S. Gandy, which sailed seas across the world.
“You’ll be better when you get out of here than you are when you get in,” Harris said. “And I was.”
Bill Harris heard those words from a friend just before he headed to Navy training, and he said they turned out to be true, but his service took him on an unexpected course.
“I wanted to be an aviation machinist mate, so I ended up being a sonarman,” Harris explained.
He was one of more than 300 men assigned to a brand new ship, the U.S.S. Gandy.
On the ship, Harris’s job was to use sonar to scan the seas for submarines.
“You would send out a sonar echo and if it hit anything then you would be listening to see if it hit anything,” Harris continued. “If it did, then you would report that you made contact and what the distance was and what the heading was. Out of that they would determine if it was a subject, and object that they should pursue.”
When you ask Harris about his service, he said what comes to mind is the day his ship sunk a German submarine in April of 1944.
“One of our sister ships made contact after it had torpedoed this tanker. This Pan Pennsylvania,” he said. “Apparently they did some damage to it because that’s when it surfaced and we were about ready to make a depth charge on it too but it surfaced.”
“After it surfaced, they had a deck gun and they were firing and we had two or three lookouts that got injured,” Harris continued.
Harris added one of the ships in his division took the submarine’s crew as prisoners, including a commander and a doctor.
“I can remember the commanding officer says ‘boys take a good look at that you’ll never see that again in your life’,” Harris recalled.
The U.S.S. Gandy’s travel log lists dozens of places that Harris saw, but his time in the Pacific was maybe some of the most impactful.
His cousin was killed on Okinawa, and Harris was able to pay his final respects with help of his commanding officer.
“I worked it out where I got to go ashore and got transportation to where the Marine cemetery was to see his name,” Harris remembered. “He was from McMechen. John B. Goodwin on a cross in Okinawa. Those things stick in your mind.”
Harris was discharged from the Navy in March of 1946 and looks back on his service with fond memories.
Shortly after coming home he joined the American Legion, and he’s been commander of Post 18 in Cameron for about 20 years.