Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr., commander of U.S. Pacific Command, left, and Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin lay a wreath at One World Trade Center during a visit to New York City for annual consultations between the U.S. Military and Australian Defence Force, May 5, 2017. (Photo by MC1(SW/AW) Carlos M. Vazquez II)
WASHINGTON, May 5, 2017 -- Navy Adm. Harry B. Harris Jr. grew up listening to sea stories about the Battle of the Coral Sea.
The admiral, now the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, is the son of a sailor who participated in the legendary World War II battle that turned back the Japanese thrust at Australia on May 8, 1942.
Harris yesterday spoke at a black tie dinner aboard the USS Intrepid -- a World War II aircraft carrier that is now a museum in New York City. He followed President Donald J. Trump and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in recognizing the veterans of the battle 75 years ago.
“He was a motor machinist mate … and he served aboard the aircraft carrier USS Lexington -- or Lady Lex as she was known to her crew,” Harris said. “Now, it is often said that the members of the greatest generation were reluctant to talk about their war experiences, but not my dad.”
Harris said that among his earliest memories include his father speaking about his service aboard the Lexington and the crucial role the ship played in the battle. The Lexington and USS Yorktown launched the aircraft that sank one Japanese carrier and severely damaged another. The Lexington itself was sunk in the battle. The battle turned back the Japanese effort to take Port Moresby in New Guinea and was the first naval battle conducted entirely by aircraft. The opposing fleets did not sight one another.
The admiral’s father loved the Lexington and spoke of it constantly. “In retrospect, I am surprised he didn’t name me Lex,” Harris said. “Dad would describe these same sea stories over and over again as if telling them for the first time. He was very proud of his small part in this pivotal battle.”
Harris graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1978, and became a naval aviator.
“Even with the perspective that comes with 39 years of wearing this uniform, I still can’t imagine what my dad and his shipmates went through that day in May 1942,” he said. “So, as we reflect tonight on the Battle of the Coral Sea, and why it still resonates 75 years later, I think it is fitting that we do so in New York City and aboard the USS Intrepid.”
The Intrepid took over when the Lexington’s story ended, Harris said. The Intrepid served all through the Pacific theater in World War II -- “another in a long gray line of ships that proudly flew Old Glory in combat,” the admiral said.
Intrepid means fearless, bold, courageous and heroic, Harris said.
“It is a legendary name in our Navy because it captures America’s character, just as it epitomizes the national spirit of Australia,” he said.
“Intrepid describes not only those who fought at Coral Sea, but also the strategic partnership forged in fire between the United States and Australia,” he added.
From World War II to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Australia has been a staunch ally, Harris said. Australia is also in step with the United States in the message now being sent to North Korea “that we will not tolerate reckless, dangerous nuclear-tipped threats,” the admiral said.
Great Ships Never Die
Great ships never die, Harris told the crowd. “They live forever in the hearts and minds of those who sailed aboard them, fought, sweated and bled on their decks and in the memories of their families of the loved ones who died in their service,” he said. “Like Gettysburg, like Gallipoli, like ground zero -- Intrepid is hallowed ground. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear her speaking to us.”
The ship was struck by four kamikazes during the war, and the ship remembers and remembers the crew that sailed it, Harris said.
“Most, including my dad, are no longer with us,” the admiral said. “But we can still hear their stories. For their spirits move amongst us tonight, reminding us that America’s and Australia’s hard-earned victories and freedoms are worth the risk of harm to our very selves -- that these are ideals worth the fight.”
The Australia-U.S. alliance “has assumed liberty’s mantle,” Harris said, “passed down from the Coral Sea in an unbroken chain, watch-to-watch for 75 years. Just as Australia and the United States stood together against tyranny and oppression in the 20th century, the world expects no less in the 21st.