January 1924 – April 2014
William L. Harris, Jr., (Rear Admiral, USN Ret.) passed away on April 3, 2014 in Palo Alto, CA. He was 90 years old.
“Bill” was a long-time resident of Los Altos, settling there in 1979 with his wife Jean after a 33-year career with the U.S. Navy. The Peninsula offered a perfect fit for Bill and Jean’s intellectual pursuits, cultural appetites, and love of the outdoors.
A native of Kansas City, MO, Bill knew from an early age that he wanted to serve his country. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1943 and graduated in June 1946 (Class of ’47). Bill loved to fly, and earned his “wings of gold” in 1949. He served in and commanded Fleet squadrons, flying the A-1 Skyraider, F-7U Cutlass, A-4 Skyhawk, and A-6 Intruder, and flew 53 combat missions over Korea. In 1956, Bill received B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aeronautical and Electrical Engineering at Naval Postgraduate School.
Bill was Commanding Officer USS ALAMO (LSD-33) from 1968 to 1969 and Commanding Officer USS MIDWAY (CVA-41) from 1971 to 1972. After being selected for flag rank, Bill served as Deputy, Naval War College; Commanding Officer, Carrier Group Seven; and Commanding Officer, Carrier Task Force 77, the aircraft carrier strike force of the US Seventh Fleet. His final assignment was CO, Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, CA.
Bill considered his most meaningful and unforgettable military experience as supporting Operation Frequent Wind, the emergency evacuation of Saigon in April 1975 while Commander, Carrier Group Seven aboard the USS Midway. During the evacuation, one South Vietnamese pilot landed his small aircraft on the carrier, bringing himself and his family to safety.
In 1989, after a 10-year career with Lockheed, Bill’s real retirement began. He and Jean enjoyed local theater, SF Giants’ games and spring training, Academy reunions, and extensive domestic and international travel. While Jean pursued her post-Navy-wife law career, Bill was very active playing tennis and lawn bowling, making frequent trips to his beloved Alaska, and as a member of Sons In Retirement and the Palo Alto Fellowship Forum. As a long-time member of the Forum, Bill could be counted on to keep the weekly luncheons light with his artful joke telling.
Bill’s dedication to the U.S. Navy was only surpassed by his devotion to his family. He strived to ensure all his children and grandchildren had meaningful experiences and higher learning that would prepare them for happy, productive lives. He treasured spending time with them at summer BBQs, holidays, annual vacations, weddings, graduations – and everything in between.
Bill is survived by his wife of 63 years, Jean; his five children, Elizabeth (John Coppinger), William (Karen), Maureen, Ken, and Mary Senatori (Paul); six grandchildren Rebecca, Anna, Nicholas, Jack, Isabella, and Francesca; and his brother Ken.
A private memorial service will take place in Los Altos. Burial with full military honors will be at the U.S. Naval Academy.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations in memory of Bill be made to support Dr. Thierry Jahan’s research at UCSF. Checks payable to UCSF Foundation, memo line or attached note to read “Jahan Research in memory of William L. Harris, Jr. (7000686).” Send to UCSF c/o Sarah Krumholz, P.O. Box 45339, San Francisco, CA 94145-0339.