Tom Harmon

Hero on the Gridiron, WWII Bomber
and Attack Pilot

By: James G. Fausone, Esq.

Tom Harmon WWII

World War II was a time of great heroism, sacrifice, and courage for the country at large. Each person had his or her own story. Tom Harmon, an American football star turned pilot, was one of many men who answered the Country's call and had a story to tell. At the time, Harmon was a football royalty. He experienced, on the football field and in the air, the thrill of victory and the lasting pain of defeat. Harmon experienced the joy of the Heisman Trophy and the honor of a Silver Star. But the loss of crewmates was a stinging defeat.

Tom Harmon's Early Life

Tom Harmon's upbringing and family played a significant role in shaping the man he would become. Thomas Dudley Harmon was born on September 28, 1919, in Rensselaer, Indiana, to Louis A. Harmon and Rose Marie Harmon. The family consisted of two girls and four boys with the addition of Tom. Mom and Dad were devout Catholics. His parents instilled in him the values of hard work, prayer, discipline, and perseverance from an early age.

Louis A. Harmon, Tom's father, was a successful businessman and farmer. Known for his strong work ethic, honesty, and determination, Louis instilled these values in his children. He taught Tom the importance of setting goals, striving for excellence, and never giving up, traits that would become evidence throughout Tom's life.

Rose Marie was a schoolteacher before her marriage. Tom's mother played a vital role in shaping his character. She provided unconditional love, support, and guidance. Rose Marie attended daily mass. She encouraged Tom to pursue his passions and dreams, recognizing his exceptional talent and nurturing his athletic abilities. She instilled in him the importance of humility, sportsmanship, and respect for others, values that would guide him both on and off the field.

Growing up in a tight-knit family, Tom Harmon experienced a childhood filled with love, laughter, and a strong sense of community. From an early age, he displayed a natural affinity for sports, showcasing his athletic talents in various endeavors. Tom participated in football, basketball, track and field, and baseball, excelling in each sport he pursued.

Harmon attended Horace Mann High School in Gary, graduating in 1937. He received 14 varsity letters in 10 sports in high school. He won the Indiana State Track Championship both in the 100-yard dash and 220-yard low hurdles. He ran the 100-yard dash in 9.9 seconds (half a second slower than Olympian Jesse Owens' world record) and 220-yard low hurdles in 22.6 seconds. He was also a star basketball player and threw two no-hitters as a pitcher in AAU baseball. Michigan Athletic Director Fielding H. Yost in 1937 proclaimed Harmon "the greatest high school athlete of that year."

It was Tom's exceptional football skills that drew the attention of college scouts and opened the doors to a future at the University of Michigan. Tom's parents recognized the importance of education alongside his athletic pursuits. They instilled in him a love for learning and stressed the significance of achieving academic excellence. This emphasis on education would serve Tom well throughout his life, as he maintained a strong commitment to his studies even as he excelled on the football field.

Tom's decision to attend the University of Michigan was influenced by several factors. The university's rich football tradition, renowned coaching staff, and academic reputation made it an ideal choice. Furthermore, the opportunity to play in the Big Ten Conference, one of the most prestigious collegiate athletic conferences of the time, provided him with the platform to showcase his talents on a national stage.

A Life Driven by Football

Harmon's football career at Michigan was nothing short of legendary. From 1938 to 1940, he captured the hearts of fans with his exceptional speed, agility, and knack for scoring touchdowns. Tom Harmon arrived at the University of Michigan in 1937 as a highly touted recruit from Gary, Indiana. From the moment he stepped foot on campus, it was clear that he possessed a rare combination of speed, agility, and football intelligence. As a halfback, Harmon showcased his incredible athleticism, becoming an integral part of the Wolverines' offense.

In his sophomore season in 1938, Harmon began to make his mark on the college football landscape. It was during his junior year in 1939 that Harmon truly burst onto the national stage. He led the Wolverines to an impressive 6-1-1 record, showcasing his versatility by excelling in both rushing and passing. Harmon's ability to contribute in multiple facets of the game made him a nightmare for opposing defenses. He proved equally effective as a runner, receiver, and passer, demonstrating his exceptional all-around skills. His work ethic, discipline, and commitment to excellence served as an inspiration to his teammates. Harmon's relentless drive and competitive spirit motivated those around him, elevating the performance of the entire team. He led by example, pushing himself to the limits and pushing his teammates to do the same.

Harmon's senior year in 1940 was nothing short of extraordinary. His exceptional performances on the field garnered national attention and admiration. Harmon's uncanny ability to find the end zone earned him the nickname "Old 98," in reference to his jersey number. He amassed an incredible 1,236 rushing yards, scoring 12 touchdowns, and also excelled as a passer and kicker. Harmon's versatility and consistency made him an unstoppable force, capturing the attention of football fans and critics across the country.

In recognition of his outstanding achievements, Tom Harmon was awarded the prestigious Heisman Trophy in 1940. The Heisman Trophy is the highest honor bestowed upon a college football player, recognizing exceptional talent, sportsmanship, and character. The Downtown Athletic Club of New York started presenting the Heisman Trophy in 1935. Harmon's win marked a historic moment for the University of Michigan, as he became the first player from the institution to receive this prestigious award. Michigan began competing in intercollegiate football in 1879. The Heisman Trophy solidified Harmon's status as one of the greatest football players of his era.

Tom Harmon Heisman Trophy Winner

Tom Harmon's football career at the University of Michigan remains a shining example of athletic excellence. His contributions to the Wolverines' legacy and his impact on the sport continue to be celebrated and revered. Harmon's legacy as a football star at Michigan serves as a reminder of the transformative power of sports, inspiring young athletes to reach for greatness and leave their mark on the game they love.

A Call to Serve

As the storm clouds of World War II loomed over the world, Harmon faced an uncertain future. With a promising future in professional football on the horizon, he like many did not appreciate how Germany and Japan were to reshape everyone’s life. Having graduated from college in May 1940, working as a radio announcer in Detroit, and a professional football career looming, he was reluctant to join up.

The draft board in Lake County, Indiana, announced that Harmon had been classified as 1-B and deferred as a student until July 1, 1941. In July 1941, Harmon was granted a further 60-day deferment based on his claim that he was the sole support for his parents. In September 1941, he appeared in front of the draft board seeking a permanent deferment. His request was denied, and he was classified as 1-A. His appeal of the classification was denied and the most famous football player of the time was given until November 1941 to enlist or be drafted.

Harmon applied to the United States Army Air Corps in early November 1941. He was granted permission to enlist as a cadet in March 1942. Harmon underwent his first 60 hours of flight training at Oxnard Air Force Base in Camarillo, California, and then finished basic flying school at Gardner Army Airfield in Taft, California, in September 1942. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and a twin-engine bomber pilot and assigned to Williams Field in Arizona in October 1942.

Within a month of his enlistment, the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 occurred and a surge in military enlistments occurred as thousands of young men answered the call to serve their country. The exact number of men who joined the military in 1941 is difficult to determine, as enlistment figures varied throughout the year and across different branches of the armed forces. However, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of men enlisted in the military in response to the events of that year.

Regarding the Army Air Corps, which would later become the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF), enlistment figures also experienced a significant increase. The attack on Pearl Harbor highlighted the importance of air power, and many young men were drawn to the prospect of becoming aviators and contributing to the war effort from the skies. The Army Air Corps, under the leadership of General Henry "Hap" Arnold, launched a recruitment campaign to meet the growing demand for trained pilots, navigators, bombardiers, and ground support troops. The allure of flying and the opportunity to play a vital role in the war attracted numerous men to join the Army Air Corps. They joined not knowing the future or even understanding the fundamentals of military flight which was undergoing new and amazing technological advances. By the end of the war, the Army Air Forces had become the largest and most technologically advanced air force in the world, with a force of over 2.4 million personnel.


In 1944, Lt. Tom Harmon wrote a small book about his early life and military adventures. He discussed his training in “Pilots Also Pray.” His bomber training was at a base in Greenville, South Carolina. At the time, the B-25 Mitchell was the medium bomber of the US Army Air Force. It was a state-of-the-art plane in WWII and used by Gen. Jimmy Doolittle for the famous Doolittle Raid over Japan on 18 April 1942.

The first B-25 production models were delivered in February 1941. A total of 9,816 Mitchells were built, greater than any other American twin-engined bomber. The majority of B-25s in American service were used in the Pacific Theater of Operations (PTO) and the Aleutian Campaign. In the China-Burma-India Theater (CBI), the B-25 attacked Japanese communication links, especially bridges in central Burma. It also helped to supply the troops. The B-25 was taken out of active service after WWII.

Flying a B-25 was a team sport. The B-25 had a crew of four to six men, the plane weighed 35,000 pounds, was 53 feet long, had a wingspan of 68 feet, and carried a 3,000-pound bomb load. Its top speed was 272 miles per hour at 13,000 feet, its service ceiling was 24,200 feet, and its range was 1,350 miles. Each man on the crew had a specific job. The captain was the pilot who was responsible for the safety of each man. Harmon felt that pressure and it impacted his future decisions about flying.

The Crash in South America

Harmon’s B-25 Mitchell bomber nose paint was “Old 98” after his football jersey number and “Little Butch” for his girlfriend. Flying any distance in those days required multiple stops to fuel up. Old 98 left Greenville, South Carolina passing over Puerto Rico, Bahamas, and Trinidad off the coast of Venezuela, French Guiana, and into Belem and Natal, Brazil. Then Old 98 would hop to Morocco on the northeast African coast, short hops across North Africa thru Algeria, Libya, and Egypt, then a flight to Karachi in southern Pakistan and over the Hump (the Himalayas) to China proper. This was a world tour for a boy from Ann Arbor. But there was always risk in such a long and arduous flight plan. The flight did not go as planned.

On April 8, 1943, the B-25 six-man crew of “Old 98” was flying at 10,000 ft for nearly two hours in heavy rain turbulence. In an attempt to reach clearer air below, Harmon maneuvered but heard a sudden sharp crack from the right wing and engine. That started a fatal spin for the craft. He ordered the crew to bail out and he knew three men got out. He assumed the other two did as well but could not see them from his cockpit seat. Finally, at 4000 ft, Harmon bailed out. His first attempt to pull the rip cord failed, but on the second try the chute deployed. He blacked out and upon regaining consciousness he found himself hung up in a tree canopy 40 feet above ground and about 20 yards from the burning plane wreckage.

After Harmon got out of the tree and down to the ground, he searched the wreckage. Two crewmen had clearly died in the crash never able to bail out: Sgt Leonard Gunnelle of Alabama and Staff Sgt. J. F. Goodwin of Texas. The other three crewmen who apparently bailed out were nowhere to be found and were never found: Second Lt. Edwin J. Wolf, navigator; Second Lt. Frederick O. Weiting; and SSG. Bernard R. Cross. Once on the ground, and as the ammunition started to burn off, Harmon grabbed a bolo knife, compass, matches, mosquito netting, and iodine from his jungle kit. He had just experienced a crash killing two of his crew, a near-death parachute drop, and seeing the severed limbs of a crew mate. But danger lay ahead as he sought to find his way out of the jungle.

Crashes as a result of mechanical failure were not unusual. As reported in the April 18, 1943 The Air War:

“Unfortunately, the two crew members who perished in the crash are not the only airmen to die in such a way. They are just two lives of thousands that have been lost in plane crashes, according to the War Department. The department revealed earlier this month that over 1,700 deaths resulted from flying accidents in Army airplanes in a nine-month period from January through September last year. The department pointed out that despite the total number of fatalities, that nine-month period was 10 percent safer for fliers than the last 10 years, from 1930 through 1939.

Those high airplane accident numbers have been dropping, the War Department reported, attributing the dip in accidents to their intensified Army Air Force safety campaign. Despite these claims, planes have still been going down and servicemen have continued to lose their lives. Harmon’s is not the only plane crash to go against the drop in accidents that the War Department is reporting.”

Prior to the spiral, Old 98’s navigator had identified the famous French penal colony of Devil’s Island. That reference point was vital. In his biography, Harmon acknowledges “shaking like a leaf” and “prayed a long prayer” after moving away from the wreckage. He also managed to salvage from the wreckage a heavy jacket, a pair of shoes, cans of water, shorts, and shirts. Without finding a map, he resolved to head due east which he knew would lead to the ocean. What he failed to initially appreciate was the dense jungle, swamp muck, and swarming mosquitoes. Harmon also regretted that he flew without a sidearm as it was being cleaned during the trip by a crewmate. Harmon wrote “It was the first time I had flown without it strapped to my side. So the knife was my only weapon.”

The lack of water was his primary concern once he found the cans of water he carried had leaked out in the jungle heat. By the fifth day, he said “I just didn't have it. I fell to my knees and prayed for all the strength I could muster. I worried about Mom. By now she must have got that telegram from the War Department.” On the sixth day, at about the time things were bleakest, he stumbled upon a barely discernible path that led to three little thatched huts. Harmon, a scruffy and worn-out white man, was thankful to meet a short, native family speaking in a French dialect he did not understand. The native hospitality allowed him to quench his thirst, eat some food, wash, and sleep. The nearest town was Cayenne, French Guiana. He was transported by boat to town and ultimately to the US Navy commanding officer in the area who called in the flight surgeon to attend to his medical condition.

He had lost 32 pounds and the bugs and swamps had enjoyed their meals on his arms, legs, and face. He spent 10 days in the hospital before making his way on a flight back to Florida. He reached some family by phone to tell them he was alright and was regaining health in sunny Florida. On the fourth day, he received orders to rejoin his squadron and was on his way to Africa to catch up to it.

Put Me in Coach

After a brief rest in Florida, and no chance to go home to his parents, or for that matter even get them on a landline telephone call, Harmon was again put in the game. He was a trained bomber pilot in a US Army Air Force that was short of pilots. As he flew again to South America to make the hop to Africa, the anxiety had to be increasing. He was flying over the same landmarks where the previous crash occurred. He had to be thinking about his missing crew, whether they were alive or dead, and what responsibility did he have for their death. Only Harmon and “the Big Boss,” as he called his Catholic God, would be able to answer those questions.

Once hopping over to northern Africa, he found himself at the Casablanca Bomber Training Center. A chance encounter with a Colonel changed the playbook that Harmon had studied. In “Pilots Also Pray,” he wrote “I was a bomber pilot. I explained that I thought the world of the B-25, but that I would rather fly alone…my crew before meant the world to me, and I would feel better flying alone now if I could.”

Clearly, the South American crash and loss of the crew had impacted Harmon. There had been no after-action psychological evaluation, it was just a “tape me up and send me in” mentality. But Harmon was not ready to be responsible for all those lives again. A sympathetic General sent Harmon to the Casablanca Fighter Training Center to “tie a P-38 on his tail and see what happens.” Harmon changed paths from a bomber pilot to a fighter pilot, as naturally as playing multiple positions on offense, which was common in that era.

Onto China

Harmon was in the first group of P-38s sent to China to fight the Japanese. Getting into the theater of war was an adventure. Harmon was tall for a P-38 cockpit and found during hours of flying his legs would go to sleep. The flight of P-38s headed to China made the jaunt along North Africa, over the pyramids of Egypt, over the Holy Land, and into India. His P-38 was named “Little Butch II.” It was necessary to time the weather to fly over the Himalayas known as the Hump. As Harmon wrote, “I had to cross the Hump five times in all, and if I never have to do it again it won’t make me mad.” The destination was Kunming, Yunnan Province, China which is north of Hanoi and east of Burma. Of the 25 planes that started the journey with Harmon, 3 of the P-38s were lost on the trip. This 12% plane loss highlights that military aviation was a risky business.

The commanding officer of the China-Burma war was General Claire L. Chennault of the Flying Tigers fame. On behalf of the Chinese, the American Volunteer Group, the official name of the Flying Tigers, was fighting Japanese aggression before America was pulled into WWII at Pearl Harbor. After December 7, 1941, Chennault commanded the American Army Air Forces in the China-Burma-India theater.

P-38 Lightning

Harmon traded the large B-25 bomber for a Lockheed P-38 which was a single-seat, twin piston-engined fighter aircraft. Along with its use as a general fighter, the P-38 was used in various aerial combat roles, including as a highly effective fighter bomber, a night fighter, and a long-range escort fighter when equipped with drop tanks. The P-38 was used most successfully in the Pacific Theater of Operations and the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations as the aircraft of America's top aces, Medal of Honor recipient Richard Bong (40 victories), Thomas McGuire (38 victories), and Charles H. MacDonald (27 victories).

Unusual for an early-war fighter design, both engines were supplemented by turbo superchargers, making it one of the earliest Allied fighters capable of performing well at high altitudes. It had a top speed of 420 mph. The turbosuperchargers also muffled the exhaust, making the P-38's operation relatively quiet. The nose of the P-38 was equipped with four .50 caliber machine guns and an extra 20mm cannon that delivered accurate and deadly firepower. The P-38 was extremely forgiving in-flight and could be mishandled in many ways. The P-38 was the only American fighter aircraft in large-scale production throughout American involvement in the war.

P-38 LightningThe P-38 Lightning's long range and endurance were also notable features. It could fly extended distances without the need for refueling, making it suitable for long-range escort missions and strategic bombing operations. Its range allowed for deep penetration into enemy territory.

In terms of combat performance, the P-38 Lightning proved to be highly effective. Its speed, maneuverability, and firepower made it a formidable adversary for enemy fighters. It earned a reputation as an exceptional dogfighter, and many pilots praised its responsiveness and handling characteristics. The P-38 Lightning also served as a reliable platform for ground attack missions, providing close air support to ground forces and conducting strafing runs on enemy targets. The P-38 Lightning's versatility and performance made it a favorite among pilots.

Duty in China-Burma-Indonesia

Harmon joined the 449th Fighter Squadron, 51st Fighter Group. His unit was stationed in the China Burma Indonesia (CBI) theater, where they operated primarily in China, Burma (now Myanmar), and India. He was in the CBI theater between 1943 and 1945.

Harmon’s squadron of P-38s joined the P-40 squadrons which had been in China for a year and had a list of victories. The P-38's primary mission was to support the P-40s and attack Japanese Zeros from a higher altitude. The P-40s were at an altitude disadvantage to the Zeros which was remedied by the P-38s.

The primary objectives of the Air Corps in the CBI Theater were to provide air support to the Chinese forces resisting Japanese aggression, disrupt Japanese supply lines, and maintain a logistical lifeline over the Hump to supply Chinese forces and American allies in China.

To accomplish the objectives, the Air Corps deployed a range of aircraft to the CBI Theater, including fighters, bombers, transport planes, and reconnaissance aircraft. The P-38 Lightning, P-40 Warhawk, and P-51 Mustang fighters were employed for air-to-air combat, while the B-25 Mitchell and B-29 Superfortress bombers were used for strategic bombing missions against Japanese targets.

The Air Corp efforts in the CBI Theater played a vital role in supporting the Chinese resistance and countering Japanese expansion in the region. The strategic bombing campaigns, interdiction efforts, and the Hump airlift all contributed to weakening Japanese supply lines and bolstering Chinese forces. It was part of a broader Allied effort to counter Japanese aggression in the Pacific theater.

Kiukiang Dog Fight and Shut Down

On a routine flight, if such a sortie exists, Harmon was part of a mission going up the river at Kiukiang to attack grain storehouses and gasoline dumps at a Japanese airfield. As bombers attacked a docked ship and the silos, a flight of six Zeros had to be engaged. The Zeros busted into three groups of two and went on the attack. Harmon was in a dive chasing one group and “cut loose with the machine guns and the first burst was a lucky shot” and the first Zero went down. As he climbed to locate another target, he closed on a climbing Zero. “I don't think he saw me, because I came right up under his wing and fired a short burst….the Zero blew up.”

With two kills and burning fuel, Harmon was climbing to head home. The ring of a shot hitting the armor plating in the back of his seat caught his attention and a second shot hit the armor plate under his seat. A third shot exploded between his legs blew out the gas primer and knocked his legs off the rudder pedals. The cockpit was on fire as flames licked his legs, arms, and face. In under a minute, he went from thinking about returning to base to feeling his plane lose control.

It was time to eject once again from a crashing airplane. He was ripped from the cockpit by the airspeed and pulled his parachute, waiting as long as possible to avoid becoming a target for the Zero machine guns. As a Zero circled, Harmon called an audible and “decided the only hope for me was to play dead.” He was praying the pilot would not waste rounds on a dead pilot in a parachute.

He came to rest in a lake which created the threat of drowning while harnessed in the chute. The Zeros made multiple dives on the lake looking to see if the pilot survived. Harmon stayed hidden under the floating chute and would duck underwater each time he heard the planes closing in on his position. He felt lucky to be alive, although he realized that he was pretty badly burned.

Harmon Missing Again Newspaper

Once again his family, friends, and the nation, had to wonder if the Heisman hero had met his match in the skies over China. For 32 days, he was missing in action. He went through the most physically painful experience of his life with severe burns on his legs and face as they became infected and festered. Chinese villagers assisted him escape and made it back to the US base. For the first 17 days, his mouth was so burned he could not eat or swallow without pain making it not worth the effort. He lost 52 pounds during the 32 days, in part from not eating but also from amoebic dysentery. His uniform had essentially been burned off him and the Chinese villagers provided clothing including a warm coat, but none of it really fit a man of his height and diminishing weight.

It was December 1943 when he made it back to base. The outpouring of happiness and surprise resulted in special mess hall meals and a mass of thanksgiving by Father Joe Cosgrove, the base chaplain. He was called upon to give a speech to the mess hall and said:

“I have had the good fortune to have lunch with the President of the United States. I have enjoyed meeting many of the celebrities of the world, and I once gained a small reputation for playing football for a great team and scoring a few touchdowns. Tonight as I stand here and speak to you, I am not so proud of having lunch with the President of the United States, although that was a great privilege. I’m not proud of a football record or any name I was lucky enough to make in sports before the war. But I am damned proud that I have been granted the good fortune to be associated with men like you, and I will always be proud that at one time in my life I was a small part of the 449th Fighter Squadron.”

After a medical checkup and hospital stay, Harmon received orders to go back home. The flight over the hump again proved harrowing but at least he was heading home. The circuitous route again took him by land where his B-25 crashed and lost three crew members. His heart was heavy. The stop in Puerto Rico meant the next stop was the good old USA. The plane landed, backdropped by a lit-up nighttime Miami skyline. Harmon climbed out of the plane and kissed the ground.

He later received the Silver Star and a Purple Heart for the mission on October 30, 1943, where he shot down two Zeros, was shot out of the air, and survived. In April 1945, Harmon was promoted to Captain. He was discharged from the military at the end of the war on August 13, 1945. A Synopsis of his Silver Star Citation is as follows:

Tom Harmon Silver Star Citation:

Thomas D. Harmon, United States Army Air Forces, was awarded the Silver Star for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action against the enemy while serving with the FOURTEENTH Air Force during World War II.

Unlucky in Flight, But not Football or Love!

But for football, Harmon would not have met the love of his life. Tom Harmon met Elyse Knox, an aspiring actress, during his time in Hollywood and prior to his enlistment. Harmon met Knox while appearing on the Bing Crosby radio show. She was two years older and married at the time. Tom Harmon had gained national fame as a football star and was beginning his transition to a career in professional football and sportscasting. Elyse Knox was pursuing her acting career and had already appeared in a few films.

Actress Elyse Knox

Harmon was known for his charming personality and good looks, which undoubtedly caught the attention of Elyse Knox. Likewise, Elyse's talent and beauty likely captured his interest. They quickly formed a connection, and their shared interests and aspirations brought them closer together. Their relationship blossomed, and they began dating. Despite the demands of their individual careers, they made time for each other and nurtured their relationship.

During his time in the military, Tom and Elyse maintained correspondence, exchanging letters to keep their connection alive. As every GI knows, love letters provided a source of support and comfort during the difficult times of war. After the end of World War II, Tom returned to the United States, and he and Elyse were reunited. They decided to take their relationship to the next level and got engaged. On April 28, 1944, Tom Harmon and Elyse Knox were married in a private wedding ceremony, surrounded by close family and friends. The wedding was not a church affair. Her wedding dress was made of silk from a parachute Harmon used when bailing out of his plane. Their marriage marked the beginning of a new chapter in their lives. Tom's football career continued to flourish as he played professionally for the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Americans (later renamed the New York Jets) in the All-America Football Conference. Elyse supported Tom throughout his football endeavors and remained a steadfast partner.

Actor Mark HarmonAlthough their marriage faced its own set of challenges, including the demands of Tom's football career and the pressures of being in the public eye, Tom and Elise remained committed to each other. They welcomed three children into their family: Kristin, Kelly, and Mark. The children had Hollywood friends and upbringing. Kristin became an actress and painter, who at 17 married recording artist Ricky Nelson and gave birth to four children. Kelly, a model turned interior designer, was once married to automaker John DeLorean. Mark played quarterback at UCLA, became an actor, and has two sons with wife and actress, Pam Dawber. Mark’s acting and producing role on the television show NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service) ran for over 20 years.

Tom Harmon and Elyse Knox's love story endured for over four decades until Tom's passing in 1990. Harmon died of cardiac arrest at the age of 70 after playing 18 holes of golf. He and a doctor friend had won a tournament that day at the Bel-Air Country Club. Tom and Elyse’s relationship serves as a testament to the power of love and support in the face of challenges and the ability to build a fulfilling life together in the realm of Hollywood and professional sports.

Honors and Legacy

Tom Harmon's contributions to the war effort did not go unnoticed. For his outstanding bravery and heroism, he was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. Harmon's remarkable achievements as a pilot were an inspiration to his fellow soldiers and to the American public back home.

After the war, Harmon briefly attempted to return to professional football. However, injuries and the toll of wartime service took a toll on his athletic career. Nevertheless, he continued to make a mark in the sports world as a renowned sports broadcaster.

Tom Harmon's legacy extends far beyond the football field and the cockpit of a fighter plane. His patriotism, selflessness and unwavering commitment to duty serve as an inspiration to future generations. Tom Harmon's remarkable journey from football star to war hero is a testament to his courage, resilience, and unwavering commitment to serving his country. His accomplishments both on and off the battlefield continue to inspire and remind us of the sacrifices made by men during World War II. He certainly was a part of the Greatest Generation.

About the Author

Jim Fausone is a partner with Legal Help For Veterans, PLLC, with over twenty years of experience helping veterans apply for service-connected disability benefits and starting their claims, appealing VA decisions, and filing claims for an increased disability rating so veterans can receive a higher level of benefits.

If you were denied service connection or benefits for any service-connected disease, our firm can help. We can also put you and your family in touch with other critical resources to ensure you receive the treatment that you deserve.

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