HARMON, LEONARD ROY (1917–1942). Leonard Roy Harmon, posthumous recipient of the Navy Cross and first person of African-American descent after whom a Navy ship was named, was born on January 21, 1917, in Cuero, Texas, to Cornelius and Naunita Mabry (White) Harmon. He graduated from Daule High School and during the Great Depression was hired for various house and grounds chores by the owner of the historic William Frobese home in Cuero. On December 3, 1937, Elene Ross, whom Harmon reportedly never married, gave birth to Harmon’s son. On June 10, 1939, Harmon enlisted in the United States Navy in Houston; he trained at Norfolk, Virginia, and reported to the USS San Francisco for duty on October 28, 1939. On board the cruiser, Harmon advanced to mess attendant first class. The battle of Guadalcanal began on November 12, 1942, with a Japanese aerial assault on American warships protecting transports that were unloading reinforcements for the marines on the island; a damaged Japanese plane was deliberately crashed into the cruiser’s radar and fire-control station, killing or injuring fifty men. The next day the San Francisco was raked by enemy gunfire that killed nearly every officer on the bridge. Disregarding his own safety, Harmon helped evacuate the wounded to a dressing station. He was killed while shielding a wounded shipmate from gunfire with his own body. For “extraordinary heroism,” he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. On May 21, 1943, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox announced that a warship would be named in Harmon’s honor. The USS Harmon, a destroyer escort, was launched on July 25, 1943. Other honors bestowed posthumously on Harmon include the naming and dedication of Harmon Hall, bachelor enlisted quarters at the United States Naval Air Station, North Island, California, on July 29, 1975, and the placing of a state historical marker at Cuero Municipal Park in 1977.
Cuero Record, December 3, 1943, February 13, April 30, 1976. DeWitt County Historical Commission, History of DeWitt County, Texas (Dallas: Curtis, 1991). Robert Ewell Greene, Black Defenders of America, 1775–1973 (Chicago: Johnson, 1974). Houston Informer, May 29, 1943. New York Times, May 22, 1943. Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin.
Richard Allen Burns
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