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Veteran Bob Harriott 'proud to have made it back'

Published: Friday, November 16, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 15, 2012 at 4:22 p.m.

World War II army veteran Bob Harriott says he was glad to be able to ride instead of march in Sunday's Veterans Day Parade.

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Bob Harriott was stationed in the Philippines during World War II.

John O'Hara / For the Argus-Courier

Sixty-six years have passed between Harriott's first and second appearances in a Petaluma parade for veterans. So, though Harriott is spry at 86 years-old, it is understandable that he was looking forward to waving to the crowd from a jeep. “I didn't plan to be in this year's parade; it was my daughter who put it together. But there I was, in the same parade I marched in when I was 20 years-old.”

As meaningful as it was for the Petaluma native to be in the parade in 1946, one year after the war ended, the 2012 parade was an even prouder moment because riding alongside him was his 24 year-old granddaughter and Marine, Laura Christensen.

Harriott grew up on a chicken ranch on Corona Road. Because his birthday is Dec. 6, one day before Pearl Harbor Day, he distinctly recalls the start of the war. “I remember listening to President Roosevelt on the radio declare war as I was celebrating my 16th birthday,” he says.

The army was drafting 18-year-olds right out of high school, however, if a young man was within six months of graduation, as Harriott was, he was allowed to stay and graduate.

“They needed bodies to serve; a lot of my good friends didn't even get to finish high school,” he said. “I graduated on May 26 and in two weeks I was gone.”

Harriott completed his basic training at Camp Roberts in central California, now used as a National Guard post, before eventually sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge on a troop ship to Manila in the Philippines.

Harriott's military occupational specialty as a rifleman put him at the front lines of action for three months in the Pacific Theater where he was part of the invasion to recapture Luzon, the large, northernmost Philippine island, from the Japanese.

“In 1945, I was in an amphibious vehicle on a beachhead, landing on southern Luzon,” he recalled. Harriott downplays the intensity of his time in the line of fire: “Things could get pretty hectic with people shooting at you and shooting back.”

Following the end of the war in September of 1945, Harriott shipped to Yokohama and then to Tokyo where he re-enlisted for another year. He expected to stay in Japan for the remainder of his service but through a fortunate series of events, Harriott was able to be stationed at Two Rock, which functioned as a Signal Intercept Station with top secret operations.

“I was home on Dec. 24, 1945,” he remembered. “It would have been expensive for the army to send me back to Tokyo and Two Rock needed people. I approached them asking if I could be stationed there. Sometimes you get lucky and I got lucky; it's unusual to be stationed in your hometown.”

When asked what he is most proud of during his time in the service, it gets down to the basics of survival. “I was proud to have made it back. The Golden Gate never looked so good.”

After serving a year at Two Rock, Harriott was honorably discharged at Hamilton Field in December of 1946 and went on to marry, raise four children and work and live in Petaluma, eventually retiring from the Petaluma School District five years ago. He says his time in the service “undoubtedly” changed his perspective. “I had much more appreciation for working with my dad on our ranch. Nobody likes getting shot at. You'd better believe I was glad to come back home.”

(Contact Colleen Rustad at argus@arguscourier.com)

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