MSgt (Ret) Willie Harris
My Tribute to MSgt (Ret) Willie Harris
By Bob McElwain
I met Willie in December of 1983 when I left TAC HQ to become the superintendent of the 35 TTW Life Support at George AFB. CA. Willie was the NCOIC of the 562 TTS in the 37 TFW at the time. Our paths crossed on several occasions until he was reassigned to the 37 TFW Life Support. I saw him almost daily after that.
After retirement, I went to work for NASA in 1991 at Edwards AFB and Willie went to work as a postal clerk in Redlands CA in 1994. A few years later Willie applied for and was hired as a Life Support Civil Servant at Edwards AFB, CA. It was then that I got to know Willie.
He and I spent a lot of time together commuting to and from work at Edwards AFB. During those rides, we talked about a lot of things. I found out that after graduating from high school Willie joined the USAF and attended school for Aircrew Life Support at Chanute AFB, IL. in Jan of 1970. He shared with me the struggles he and his wife had when he was just a lowly rank airman and how much he wanted out of the Air Force back then. We also talked about what it was like being black and growing up in his hometown, and his first job working for a soda bottling company. He talked a lot about his mom and how active she was at such an advanced age. I got the impression she was the love of Willie’s life.
During his military career, Willie was transferred to George AFB twice! The first time was in 1975 and again in 1980. He worked in the consolidated survival kit section inspecting and packing survival kits for the F–4G “Wild Weasel” radar suppression aircraft during his first assignment to George. The second time there he was the NCOIC of the 562nd Life Support Shop until he was reassigned to the 37th TFW Life Support.
In 1992 the two wings on base (37 TFW and the 35 TTW) consolidated. Willie took over the 21st Tactical Training Squadron Life Support Shop after the consolidation and worked there until December 1992 when the base closed.
After his military career was over, Willie was later hired as a Civil Servant where he continued working in life support at Edwards AFB, CA.
Throughout his military career, He was concerned with taking care of his pilots and subordinates. His love of the career field, dedication, and drive earned him special recognition in the Aircrew Life Support as a military member and as a Civil Servant.
I got the impression Willie was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. He certainly was a good friend. He was also an amazingly conservative man who had strong political views. I liked him most because he was a loving spirit that had no hatred towards anyone and always gave people a chance.
Anyone who spent as much time with Willie as I have knows that he was a born-again Christian and an avid fan of the LA Dodgers. He was also a huge fan of two famous guys from his hometown of Birmingham, AL. Those two guys were once part of the greatest singing group from Motown, Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams of the Temptations. Whenever I would play a Temptations CD in the car during our one hour and 15-minute drive to work, Willie would say “I don’t listen to that kind of music anymore!” So, now and then I would play a Temptation song just to get a reaction from him. Whenever I played a song he would say the same thing, “I told you I don’t listen to that kind of music anymore.” It was funny to me that he would always start singing along with the song when it got to certain parts. It was about the second or third time that this happened that I said the following to him, “you may not listen to this music anymore, but you can’t resist singing along with your homeboys” and then he and I would start laughing. There was no getting around it, Willie loved the Temptations or at least Eddie and Paul.
Willie will always have a special place in Aircrew Life Support and our hearts. Sadly, friends like Willie who we shared life with for so many years and who are not here with us in body anymore will forever be with us in spirit.
I am grateful that I got to know Willie and for all the good and happy times we were allowed to spend together. Rest in peace my friend.
MSgt (Ret) Willie Harris
Jan 1970 – Apr 70 Chanute AFB, ILL
May 70 -Nov 71 Castle AFB, CA
NOV 71 – May 75 Kadena AB, Okinawa, Japan
Jun 75 – Oct 79 George AFB, CA
Nov 79 – Nov 80 Osan AB, Korea
Nov 80 – Dec 92 562 TTS, 37 TFW, and 21 TTS George AFB, CA
? – ? 412 OSS/EDWARDS AFB, CA (CIVILIAN EMPLOYEE)