#ASMSG – What is the connection between Mark Harmon, star of the hit TV series NCIS, and the China Burma India (CBI) theater of World War II? His father Tom Harmon, University of Michigan Heisman Trophy winner, served as a fighter pilot in the CBI during WWII.

Tom Harmon was born in Rensselaer, Indiana on September 28, 1919. His family later moved to Gary Indiana where he graduated from Horace Mann High School in 1937. During high school, he was an outstanding athlete winning 14 varsity letters and was named All-State quarterback two times. Harmon played college football for the University of Michigan Wolverines from 1938 to 1940 where he won the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award in his senior season. He excelled as a tailback and as a kicker. During his college career he rushed for 2,134 yards, completed 100 passes for 1,304 yards and 16 touchdowns, and scored 237 points. In his final game against Ohio State, he led Michigan to a 40-0 win over the Buckeyes. During that game, he scored 3 rushing touchdowns, 2 passing touchdowns, four extra points, intercepted 3 passes and punted 3 times for an average of 50 yards.

Tom Harmon FB

During World War II, Harmon enlisted in the Army Air Corps and received his wings in October 1942. He trained in B-25 bombers and took off for North Africa in a B-25 in April 1943. During that flight, his plane went down in the jungles of Dutch Guiana. Harmon was the only survivor and walked through the jungle until he was rescued by natives. He was then shipped to North Africa where he trained in P-38 fighter aircraft. In the summer of 1943 he flew his P-38 named “Little Butch II” to the CBI theatre where he shot down his first Japanese airplane on August 28, 1943. In October 1943, he was shot down and bailed out over Japanese occupied China during an air fight. When he reached the ground, he discovered bullet holes in his parachute and played dead to discourage further attacks by the enemy pilots. During this ordeal, he was smuggled through Japanese-held territory to an American base by friendly Chinese groups. Harmon saved the silk from his parachute and it was later used to make his wife’s wedding dress when he married actress Elyse Knox in 1944. He received the Purple Heart and the Silver Star for his actions in the CBI.

Tom Harmon AF

After the war Tom Harmon played professional football for the Los Angeles Rams, but injuries to his legs during the war limited his success. He then became a sports broadcaster and was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame in 1954. Harmon’s children also became successful in the fields of sports and entertainment. His son Mark Harmon, played quarterback for UCLA and later became a top TV star. His daughter Kristin Harmon became an actress and married Ricky Nelson. Among her credits are TV roles on Green Acres and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet.

Mark Harmon

Kristin Harmon

Additional stories of men who survived the jungles of Burma can be read in my book Kicker which can be found at the links below.

Amazon http://amzn.to/W7XiUd

Barnes and Nobel  http://bit.ly/WHvcVO

#ASMSG Cowboy Superstar Gene Autry in the CBI Theater

Most people remember Gene Autry as the singing cowboy who became famous for his work on the radio, television and in the movies. However, few people know he piloted C47 cargo planes during World War II and flew over the hump in the CBI Theater.

Gene Autry was born Orvon Grover Autry near Tioga, Texas in 1907. It’s hard to believe the outlaws in his western movies would have taken anyone with the name Orvon seriously, so it’s understandable that he changed his name. Gene started his entertainment career in 1928 and became known as the Singing Cowboy. He attained superstar status in a career that included  records, radio, television, live stage and the movies. By the time he retired from show business 1964, he had starred in almost 100 films and made over 640 records. His records sold more than 100 million copies, including the first record ever certified gold. Gene Autry is the only person to have five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, one in each of the five categories maintained by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. He was also a Freemason and became a 33rd degree Master Mason.

In response to the many young people aspiring to emulate him, Mr. Autry created the Cowboy Code, or Ten Cowboy Commandments. The code consisted of the following tenets:

1.   The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

2.   He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.

3.   He must always tell the truth.

4.   He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.

5.   He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.

6.   He must help people in distress.

7.   He must be a good worker.

8.   He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.

9.   He must respect women, parents, and his nation’s laws.

10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

The code reflected his personal philosophies and he proved his patriotism during WWII. He interrupted his flourishing career in 1942 and joined the Army Air Corps. He was sworn into the Army on the air during a broadcast of “Melody Ranch”. Gene entered the army as a tech sergeant and was accepted for flight training. On completion of his training, he was promoted to Flight Officer and was assigned to the Air Transport Command. He was on flight status from June, 1944 until June 1945 and flew C47s carrying fuel, ammunition and arms over the hump in the China-Burma-India theater of war. The hump was a hazardous air route over the Himalayan mountains that became known as the Aluminum Trail due to the scattered wreckage of the numerous planes that went down due to extreme weather and enemy action. Gene Autry served his country as a beloved superstar and a brave pilot during WWII.

If you would like to read more about the brave men who fought in the CBI Theater, you can find their stories in my book “Kicker” which can be found at the following sites: