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Veteran remembers fallen comrade nearly five decades after his death

Posted at 11:26 PM, Apr 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-08 23:26:40-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) — Joe Harris was a talented athlete. He went to Leon High School, and later Florida State. Harris enlisted in the United States Army the day after graduation. He was killed in 1972 when his helicopter was shot down, but every April 8 his memory is honored in Tallahassee.

"There were only two people on that helicopter. Captain Harris and me. He didn't make it through the crash and I did. Why, I don't know."

Tallahassee's Joe Harris was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Larry Jackson was his door gunner on that fateful day in 1972.

"I remember looking out the door of the helicopter and seeing the tail boom falling down into the trees," he reflected.

Jackson and Harris were on their way to fly cover for another aircraft when they were shot down.

"I refused to leave until they helped me get Captain Harris out," he said. "You don't leave your fellow soldier behind."

Harris was 24 years old when he was killed.

"I understand he played every sport imaginable and he was in it to win it on everything," said Tom Myers, a biographer who's helped put together the pieces of that fateful day.

Harris was a frequent of Levy Park as a kid, playing Little League and American Legion ball. Although Jackson didn't know much about Harris pre-Vietnam, his life was forever changed by Harris'.

"Makes me wonder why I ever made it out."

Now, every year on April 8, he pays his respects to his fallen friend.

"It's pretty emotional seeing somebody who survived all that and the reality hitting you of somebody that didn't," said Myers. "He's been commemorating and honoring that ever since that."

"When I found where Captain Harris was buried and I started to try and come down here on April the 8th to pay my respects on that day," said Jackson.

Harris' mother set up an endowment fund at Florida State's College of Criminal Justice in honor of her son, who earned a degree in Criminology before enlisting.