United States Air Force Veteran Leonard Harris

A Q&A with United States Air Force veteran Leonard Harris. Harris was nominated by the Flossmoor Community Relations Commission for our Black History Month feature.

Military Branch: United States Air Force

Units Served: Air to ground radio operator (Strategic Air Command) and in Vietnam, ground to ground operator

Role in Unit: My job was to relay flight information instructions to military aircraft flying overseas for the first three years. In Vietnam, my job was to maintain communications for our outpost.

Years of Military Service: 4

Highest Military Ranking: E4 Senior Airman

Honors Received: National Defense Service Medal and Vietnam Service Medal

Overseas Service: Philippines (1966), Vietnam (1966)

What motivated you to join the military? I was about to be drafted when I joined the Air Force.

What is an achievement that you are most proud of in your military service? Surviving the war.

Which medals and/or citations are you most honored to have received? Vietnam Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal

How did you stay connected to home and to loved ones while deployed? I tried to write one letter a week while I was stationed in the Philippines. I was able to send and receive letters while serving in Vietnam but not as frequently.

Who is someone you looked up to or someone who meat a lot to you while serving in the military? My cousin was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam.

How did/does your military experience impact your life today? Thanks to my service in the military, I was able to use the GI Bill to further my education (and) I receive medical care at Jessie Brown Veterans Hospital.

What was it like on your last day of service? There were a lot of protests of the Vietnam War going on at the time, with much of the hostility directed toward the military.

After returning to civilian life, how were you initially received by veterans/family/community? My family was happy to have me home. While I was in Vietnam, I could not share much about where I was or what I was doing.

Following your service, did you pursue secondary education or enter the workforce? I was discharged November 1966. I enrolled in city college the following year and graduate from Northern Illinois University with a B.S. in Accounting three years later. One of the Airmen I served with in Vietnam encouraged me to go to college and helped to provide me with the skills that made my success in college possible.

Did you, and how do you, stay in touch with people you served with? To my regret, I did not stay in touch with those I served with in Vietnam.

What would you like people to know about your military experience? The military can provide a young man with the opportunity to mature, develop discipline, and get to know people from other cultures and backgrounds.

What question do you with people would ask you? I have found that most veterans from that era have not talked much about their military experience.