Harlan Family History

Photos and Stories from the 1850s to the 1960s

United States Naval Service

 

Changes of direction in life can sometimes sneak up on you.  A woman’s smile will do it, and so will a baby.  It strikes you somewhere in your genetic code or from life experiences.  Other times the change will be dramatic as in a breaking point or epiphany.  Something has to give.  That was me in the summer of 1965 after starting to law school with the intent of going straight through to my future law practice.  After all everything was in order for that to occur.  I had worked year around in either a job or at school with outside employment from the time I turned eleven.  I had a job promise from my girlfriend’s relatives.  What was there not to like?  It is not like I had never been challenged.  Certainly Grinnell had been an outstanding experience where I had met some of the greatest minds and had learned much.  I did not have the highest grades but had taken away more than I could have imagined.  I had support and was thankful.  But, it felt like a velvet trap.  Doing what other people wanted or what I felt I wanted seemed right.  Who was I?  As the Bard said; “To be or not to be, that is the question”.

 

I remembered the stories about Captain Harry Blount, the courage of my British relatives during WWII, or of my older neighbors, such as Captain Eugene Hill USMC in the south Pacific.  There were others in every generation of my family.  Vietnam was calling.  So one night I had way too many of my favorite spirits and the next morning went to the federal building and volunteered for service in the Navy and applied for officer status.  I also asked for combat.  I was not sure where this was going, but I felt free because I was outside the box.  I left law school and worked for a pipeline company, working hard manual labor waiting for my commission.

 

Right after the first of the year I had my first airplane flight to Newport RI, where I spent the next eighteen weeks in training. The physical and mental requirements were not difficult for me, although some in my battalion did commit suicide.  I have told some that no drill instructor could dress me down harder than my mother.  I did do one thing wrong.  I started my first morning by doing one-handed push-ups and the war was on with the trainer.  So lesson one was don’t stand out too much.  Second lesson is don’t volunteer.  If you put combat service in an intelligence unit in Vietnam, you just might get it.  And I did.  I had to go through a CIA sponsored intelligence course and an additional current update before I left through Travis AFB in California to a base seventeen flight hours away in Subic Bay PI where Air Wing Eleven and the USS Kitty Hawk awaited.  I was an ensign with a combat intelligence designator.

Although I was attached to the air-wing, I worked in the IOIC (Integrate Operations Intelligence Center) which was the nerve center for seventh fleet intelligence collection for the Vietnam effort as well as any other threat. One of those was the cultural revolution in China where our Hong Kong stores and R&R facility was located.  There were also hostiles in the PI.  There were others outside the scope of this discussion.

Longer than three football fields and carrying a crew of five thousand, the Kitty Hawk is a massive ship.  The first task after reporting aboard was to figure out how to get from my state room to the flight deck in case of a disaster.  Carriers are prone to fires and explosions because of the fuel, tires, and bombs that are stored below decks. Sabotage can be a problem but accidents are more common.  One of these occurred on the USS Ranger when an armed missile on one aircraft accidently fired up the tail of the plane in front causing all of its bombs to go off.  The ship was heavily damaged with many lives lost along with many aircraft.  There were large holes in the deck.  It wasn’t more than a day after I came aboard when a fire started in a tire locker storing magnesium wheels.  Tires cause heavy dense smoke.  I was glad I had counted all the steps, knee knockers, directions and ladders to get on deck because I had eleven guys behind me, all of us blinded by smoke and low crawling as we made our way out.  Others were not fortunate.

After sailors made repairs we went to Hong Kong.  I found myself with a briefcase hand-cuffed to my wrist and a 1911 Colt 45 pistol in my belt transporting classified documents from ship to ship.  Accompanied by a body guard we made our way across the harbor by water taxi to make deliveries.  Thought we were going to have problem when the helmsman appeared to be heading up-river to Canton in the PRC until he was persuaded otherwise.  Hong Kong was dangerous because of the uprising just across the border crossing to the north and other foreign intelligence agents working the area.

 

After we left Hong Kong we headed for Yankee Station where we joined two other carriers doing flight operations.  Combat operations are generally grueling days of little sleep, much anguish, and many duties.  Mine included target analysis, review of intelligence operations, mission briefing, debriefing, and planning of operations for both strikes and search and rescue.  Sometimes we did joint operations with the Air Force and Marines.  We also had to stay out of the way of other activities, as you might bomb your own people or friendly forces.  It is a complex problem with absolute attention to detail.  On occasion and after some experience I worked with small groups who carried out highly sensitive or hazardous operations.  The hard ones were when you worked with people who had little or no chance of returning.  These men showed me what real courage is and what is not.  One small error can mean life or death.  I started turning grey as did most everyone else.  The only relief was week periods of R&R in the PI.   After the last line period in June we sailed for San Diego.  I had been nominated for a commendation medal with combat V.  I loved the work.

 

We spent about three months in San Diego, during which I got thirty days leave,  got married to a wonderful young woman, trained in Fallon, Nevada.  I barely had a chance to take a breath before we left San Diego and headed back to Yankee Station.  We thought we were going to be gone for seven months but it turned into eleven.  I had been promoted to full by January.  In the meantime it was operations as usual.  Then there was the TET offensive of 1968.  We had known something big was going to happen starting in December.  I had photos taken along the Ho Chi Minh trail that were persuasive.  Warnings were sent up the chain of command, but were ignored.  This was discouraging to those of us who suspected that something big was going to happen.  But the information was held back because we were winning the war.  As it turned out we spent sixty-seven days of constant combat in support of every combat unit where possible.  LBJ decided not to run for president again.  Many lives were lost.  In the meantime the North Koreans had captured one of our intelligence assets with the entire crew.  It was the USS Pueblo.  During that period I extended my Navy career to a state-side position at Miramar Naval Air Station, where I was an instructor.  In late 1969 The crew of the Pueblo was released by the North Koreans and I was among the five officers selected by Admiral John McCain, commander-in-chief Pacific to conduct the de-brief if the crew.  This took several months and by that time I departed the active Navy and was assigned to a reserve unit in Long Beach.  I received a letter of appreciation from Admiral McCain.  And I began to move on with my life.

 

I must add that I could never really adjust to civilian life.  I had changed.  In many ways I was a harder more disciplined person.  In others I was more grateful. Do not thank me for my service, but do a random act of kindness.  As a footnote I ran into one of our operators, a former Marine, when we moved to Anaheim.  But for the most part we went to this war alone and came back alone.  The church that once accepted me now rejected me, but that is another story.

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Erratum and Credits

There is a conflict in the document between Eugene Leslie and Oscar Harlan with respect with who was in Wyoming or South Dakota.  There are discussions both ways.  My opinion based on railroads is Oscar in Wyoming and Eugene Leslie in South Dakota.

I would not have been able to develop or publish this document without the help of Magda Rolfes, Julia Harlan, Mary Harlan, the late Ed McCall, the late Sir Reginald Harland KBE, and the notes of Samuel Blount.

John Harlan

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When I first became aware of the notion of having neighbors I realized that we were surrounded by relatives.  There was Harry and Louise Harlan ( brother and sister) to the south and Jim and Lizzie Harlan to the east.  Dad’s sister Doris and her husband Clarence Lowe lived in Reasoner four miles south.  Grandpa and Grandma Blount lived on the north side of Newton.  Jason (Mom’s brother) and Ruby Blount lived in Newton and a whole clan of Roberts lived in Prairie City and environs eight miles away.  Mom did a count of 122 second cousins living in Jasper County.  Eighty miles west was the rest of Dad’s family where one would lose count.   From age 5 to 15 these relatives started moving away or dying.  In the meantime I relished their concern for me and especially their stories.

While chewing his Red Man tobacco and spitting toward a bucket which he frequently missed Harry Harlan would talk about early Iowa when there were no fences, few roads, civil war stories, native Americans, and Wyatt Earp.  Milo Earp, Wyatt’s nephew, delivered our mail.  Captain Atwood had lived a mile south of us and had been a hero in the Civil War.  He had married into the Harlan family.  The Palo Alto cemetery is full of Civil war veterans and their families.  You could walk from Iowa to Colorado without crossing a fence-line.  He gave me an arrowhead collection from the grove near us that had been the winter camp ground for native  Americans.  I was also the recipient of a ceremonial tomahawk.  The early Harlans had got on well with their native American neighbors.  All like to hunt and fish.  Harry and Louise remembered people of many of our western legends because they had met them.  As footnote Eugene Leslie was in town when the James boys paid a visit.

When I walked home from our one room country school I knew I would be met with a piece of pie if I stopped in at Harry and Louise Harlan’s .  Louse cooked on a wood stove on which would be her curling irons.  When I got older I would clean the out buildings, cultivate the garden or do other odd jobs that they needed done.  They were as close grandparents as you could have.  I wrote an essay on personification, using Louise as a subject and always remember the A I received.  That was ninth grade.

After Orpha’s death in 1948 Grandpa Blount came to live with us. He was the one who introduced the world to me.  He received letters from relatives in South Africa, England, and friends in New Zealand.  Many of these relatives were free-thinking engineers and adventurers involved in the activities of an expanded British empire.  Grandpa thought of himself as being an atheist, although he had been baptized in the Anglican Church and had attended the Methodist church.  He had insisted that my mother learn to drive during a period when many women did not.  He was very widely read.  He was the keel beneath my ship.  He went back to England four times while living with us for ten years.  When he was home he was a constant companion and while we worked and he was always sharing stories and ideas.  He was the one who told me about his cousin Captain Harry Blount of the British Merchant Marine, whose ship would carry supplies to the Russians during WWI.  I was so sad when he died that my grades dropped an entire grade point.  It seems that I was never able to say goodbye.  When Louise Harlan died I did not remember attending the funeral until 40 years later when I discovered a memorial of the funeral saying I had been a pall bearer.

Before I left home I had a constant feeling of being alone, the square peg in the round hole, the odd man out.  I set out to find meaning.  I explored books, experienced high risk, fell in love, and shared children whom I dearly love and loved, but I did not find myself until I returned to my roots.  I spent time at the Palo Alto cemetery and I was home.

Eugene and Wilbur

Eugene Leslie or Leslie as his friends called him, my grandfather, was most influenced by the building of the railroads.  When his father traveled to Washington he was left behind probably in Stuart and may have lived with the Nation family.  Stuart was a center in that part of Iowa for the railroad industry, especially the Chicago and Northwestern line.  As a carpenter he worked for the Milwaukee Rail Road which was being built in northern Iowa.  He built stations and other infrastructure stretching into South Dakota where he had a land claim.  He was gone at long stretches at a time but was able to father Oscar, Elsie, Royal, Doris, Delma, and Loren Ellis.  Dad only used Ellis.

He was known for wearing a bear-skin coat and for carrying candy in the pockets that he gave to children.  When Theressa would take the children to the Quaker church, Eugene would stop off at the pool hall until the end of services.  Pool halls were notorious for serving alcoholic beverages during prohibition.  He also brewed his own at home.  He was a fiddle player and would join his brother Wilbur to play at dances in the area.  He was as a kind man and never swore where the children could hear.  Tragedy struck when Royal shot himself.  My dad witnessed his death and I believe it scarred him for life as he was only seven.  Then Eugene died in 1925 and my Dad had to take over the farm.

Eugene had only forty acres and raised bees and produce he could sell in town.  It has been said he sold hundreds of pounds of honey each year.

Wilbur, Eugene’s brother, married Lilian Russell.  The children were Ralph, George, Hugh, Howard, Martin, and Glen.  Ralph and Hugh were farmers in the area.  George became a teacher in Waterloo, Iowa.  Howard went to Iowa State where he excelled in football and later worked in the forest service as a smoke-jumper.  Howard died young but Mary Bess, his wife, used to bring daughters Helen and Phyllis to visit in the summers.  Their grandfather, Jim Harlan was our neighbor.  Martin was a doctor and died in World War II off the coast of Australia.  Glen was an attorney for Eastern Airlines and was at the first Harlan reunion in Delaware where my son John and I met him. Tragedy also struck Wilbur when his son Ralph accidentally shot his mother Lillian.  His Aunt was also there.  This changed Wilbur for the rest of his life.  She was thirty-six and Ralph was about ten.

One difference between the children of Eugene and Wilbur was education.  Of all the children Eugene only Ellis had a high-school diploma.

Ellis’ Siblings

Dad’s brother Oscar was born on the home place in 1887.  He was a man of his times, being both tough and independent.  He and his dad would go fishing around Spirit Lake.  Before the land was tiled it was full of wild life.  There they would camp for days at a time.  Oscar developed an expertise with guns which were part of who he was. He attended rural schools until he learned what he needed.  He worked for his parents until he was 21.  He then went west working on the rail road, specifically on the tunnel between Cheyenne and Laramie Wyoming.  It was there that he helped organize the workers for a raise in wages which was successful.  In the meantime he claimed ground near Hillsdale Wyoming.  It is said that he shot a claim jumper.  Having developed the property for sale he left Wyoming to return to the Stuart Iowa area where he bought a farm that he kept for 50 years.  That was in 1919.  He married Zeta Cave in 1911.   His daughter Ethel was born in 1918.

During 1920s the KKK was on the rise in Iowa, holding tent meetings for recruiting purposes.  The story was that the KKK allied merchants would not sell needed goods to minority members in the community.  So Oscar would take the orders from his friends, Catholics and other minorities, and go to town and buy them, then distribute them on his return.  The word got back to the KKK who proceeded to burn a fiery cross in front of his house.  Oscar met them with a shot-gun which intimidated Klan members. There are many variations on this story.  According to Ed McCall, Oscar was a crack shot who could put a pistol round through the hole in a bird house.  He fired shot-guns so often he developed arthritis in his shoulder in later years.  He also liked his whiskey.  Many thought that I am much like him.  He liked to read.

My one regret is that I did not stop to see him on my way west after receiving my commission.

Other members of Dad’s family were Elsie who married Gordon Shelly.  They had 10 children.  Royal shot himself.  Doris married Clarence Lowe who had one child , Charlene.  And Delm who married Ralph Stanley.  Delma had Margaret, Barbara, Ralph, Martha, Charles, Helen and James.

Ellis and Julia Harlan

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My father, Ellis Harlan was only sixteen when he had to withdraw from school for a year to attend to the farm.  He was the only child left at home and also took care of his mother.  His dad had died of Hodgkins disease which is now treatable.  He did return to school the next year and continued on to graduate.  He was the first in his family to graduate from high school.   We did not know until much later that he was the number one male student in Guthrie County when he graduated from eighth grade.  Education and reading were very important to him throughout his life.  He was fond of Carl Jung, Longfellow, and Alfred North Whitehead.  He loved to read the bible and participate in religious discussions.  In spirit he would have loved Thoreau as he loved nature.  He was a steward of nature rather than its master.  He liked to hunt and fish in addition to being self- reliant.  He was also a carpenter, electrician and plumber.  He was also a member of the Grange where he served in leadership positions and served as sexton of the Palo Alto Cemetery just as his grandfather Powell was.  One could call him a jack of all trades but I would refer to him as a man for all seasons.

He tried to eke out a living on the home place but then the depression hit.  His mother developed a mental illness and later died in a mental institution.  Dad was an anxious person who used music as an antidote.  He played the fiddle and harmonica and recited poetry, especially the “99 Counties of Iowa” at various functions.  His favorite historical figures were Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  He resembled Lincoln and in later years wore a similar beard if mom would let him.  The 1930s were hard for him and he ended up working on road projects until he was hired by Maytag.  He hated company work and continued try to return to farming.   He loved all aspects of being self- employed, but finally had to submit to the regular check.  Dad loved to travel when possible.  Usually in August we would see relatives or visit something interesting like Washington D.C.

Ellis was taciturn, stoic and of few words, but his spirit was fun-loving.  He could be tough if need be.  He enjoyed taking us all to Grange dances and once played Santa Claus.

Julia Elizabeth Blount married Ellis Harlan on October 31st 1937 after a whirlwind romance.  They had met in August.  They first lived at the home place north of Stuart where Ellis was born.  That is in the log cabin.  It was tough to make a living there and Julia wanted to make sure any children would go to college.  Julia was soon pregnant and the only medical help was a veterinarian.  So they moved to Jasper County to live with Julia’s parents at the Roberts estate house.  When Mary was born in November she was the fourth generation to live at the Roberts estate.  Mary was also the first generation to be born ata hospital.  In this case it was Des Moines.  Jane and I were both born in Newton at the hospital.

Julia was part of what has been called the greatest generation.  Although many lived well during roaring twenties, a slump in agriculture prices started at the end of WWI.  Julia was born in 1920 and her parents were optimistic about the future and bought a farm for themselves.  And for a time until about 1930 things were manageable but not easy.  Then the stock market crashed and along with that the price for farm commodities.  Corn went for 10 cents per bushel.  It was commonly used for heating.  On top of that the rain stopped.  Huge dust clouds originating in the southwest US spread all the way to Washington DC.  In 1934 there were virtually no worthwhile crops.  On the farm in Stuart Ellis was taking care of his ailing mother who had mental disease and trying to make a living chopping wood.  My understanding is that he hunted to supplement the food supply.

Julia was attending school in Jasper County.  She had two blouses and a skirt.  Then came the winter of 1935 and 1936 when the temperatures plunged to records that still stand.  Julia suffered frostbite to her legs trying to get to school.  The snow was so deep the Blounts were isolated for weeks.  They did pass the time playing cards with the neighbor across the road and even Orpha got in the act because it distracted them from the difficulty of trying to survive.  Julia commented that she would come home from school and find her mother crying.  By 1937 the situation was getting better.

Ellis came to Newton to work at the Maytag Company and work on the roads being built.  Dad had met Jason, Julia’s brother, at the Methodist church in Newton.  Dad was introduced to Julia.  Ellis lived with his sister Doris and brother-in-law Clarence Lowe.  Julia’s favorite movie was “Gone with the Wind”.  Dad had a striking resemblance to Clark Gable.

In 1940 Grandfather Roberts died and everyone had to find a new place.  Orpha and Sam found a new place to live as well as Dad and Mom.  Of course it was not long before WWII started which meant sacrifice for everyone.  Gas, food and tires all were regulated.  It was good for farmers but it was a good idea to raise your own food, Victory Gardens. Many of our male relatives and friends were drafted including Dad who was first on the list but he was exempted because of the farm.  If you were fit you went.  Those who had religious objectives drove ambulances or worked in the medical field.  Many were killed and wounded.  One mom’s friends who I knew won the Medal of Honor.  When the war ended we sent care packages to our relatives in England.

I must say Mom was tough and frugal.  She liked book keeping more than farming.  She frowned on any kind of waste.  Yet with Dad she was different.  They loved to dance and a dancing couple is what appears on their monument.

Eugene Leslie

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Eugene Leslie far left with hat. Woman holding baby is Lilian.

Eugene Leslie or Leslie as his friends called him, my grandfather, was most influenced by the building of the railroads.  When his father traveled to Washington he was left behind probably in Stuart and may have lived with the Nation family.  Stuart was a center in that part of Iowa for the railroad industry, especially the Chicago and Northwestern line.  As a carpenter he worked for the Milwaukee Rail Road which was being built in northern Iowa.  He built stations and other infrastructure stretching into South Dakota where he had a land claim.  He was gone at long stretches at a time but was able to father Oscar, Elsie, Royal, Doris, Delma, and Loren Ellis.  Dad only used Ellis.

He was known for wearing a bear-skin coat and for carrying candy in the pockets that he gave to children.  When Theressa would take the children to the Quaker church, Eugene would stop off at the pool hall until the end of services.  Pool halls were notorious for serving alcoholic beverages during prohibition.  He also brewed his own at home.  He was a fiddle player and would join his brother Wilbur to play at dances in the area.  He was as a kind man and never swore where the children could hear.  Tragedy struck when Royal shot himself.  My dad witnessed his death and I believe it scarred him for life as he was only seven.  Then Eugene died in 1925 and my Dad had to take over the farm.

Eugene had only forty acres and raised bees and produce he could sell in town.  It has been said he sold hundreds of pounds of honey each year.

Wilbur, Eugene’s brother, married Lilian Russell.  The children were Ralph, George, Hugh, Howard, Martin, and Glen.  Ralph and Hugh were farmers in the area.  George became a teacher in Waterloo, Iowa.  Howard went to Iowa State where he excelled in football and later worked in the forest service as a smoke-jumper.  Howard died young but Mary Bess, his wife, used to bring daughters Helen and Phyllis to visit in the summers.  Their grandfather, Jim Harlan was our neighbor.  Martin was a doctor and died in World War II off the coast of Australia.  Glen was an attorney for Eastern Airlines and was at the first Harlan reunion in Delaware where my son John and I met him. Tragedy also struck Wilbur when his son Ralph accidentally shot his mother Lillian.  His Aunt was also there.  This changed Wilbur for the rest of his life.  She was thirty-six and Ralph was about ten.

One difference between the children of Eugene and Wilbur was education.  Of all the children Eugene only Ellis had a high-school diploma.