An American hero turns 96

World War II veteran Bill Harrison celebrates with friends at Hemet’s Colonial Country Club

Photos by Melissa Diaz Hernandez/The Valley Chronicle
Bill Harrison cuts the first piece of one of three birthday cakes with friends by his side.

■ Melissa Diaz Hernandez / Editor

World War II veteran and author, Bill Harrison, turned 96 this week and celebrated the occasion by attending a party put on by Jim Winget of Elks Lodge 1740 and Pawsability 4 Veterans at Hemet’s Colonial Country Club.
“The generation that saved the world,” stated San Jacinto Councilman Scott Miller as he honored and wished Harrison a happy 96th birthday from the city of San Jacinto.
“The city of San Jacinto appreciates your service and dedication to our country and applauds your courage, your bravery and your perseverance while not only trying to save your own life but you saved the lives of others,” read Miller as he made a presentation to Harrison.
Hemet Mayor Michael Perciful also wished Harrison a happy birthday from the city of Hemet.
“I have a beautiful bunch of friends and God has been so good to me,” said Harrison as he blew out the candles of his cake.
“I thank each one of you for being here,” said Harrison. “What a day!”
Harrison survived six days at sea on a life raft off the coast of Japan one month after WWII ended. He dedicated the book he wrote on the experience, “Six Days on a Raft,” co-authored with Forrest Haggerty, to the memory of his 472 comrades of the U.S.S. YMS who never made it home. Harrison thanked Haggerty for helping to bring his book to life.
“I think about what God had planned,” reflected Harrison. “I was in the service and he wanted to make sure I survived. After I was discharged I got my contractor’s license and my three brothers and I built 53 churches up and down the west coast. We built 12 in the San Diego area, one in Sacramento, three in the San Joaquin Valley, but most [of the churches] we built along the Whittier and Los Angeles area. Whittier was our home base.”
“God was with us big time,” said Harrison. “I am so thankful for this particular generation. I know many commentators call us the greatest generation of Americans since the beginning of the United States. I am not sure that’s true because we have always had a great bunch of kids. I tell you—I am going to say one thing—when I go to speak to the schools and I look in the faces of these kids, I get so excited. They are the future of the greatest country in the world.”
“By the questions they ask me, you know they are being taught by dedicated teachers. For 70 years I have been speaking to schools, clubs, churches and I still have assignments coming up. I am so thankful God is keeping me healthy so I can do everything like this.”
“The last three verses of the 91st Psalm have meant so much to me,” Harrison told the group of attendees.
We looked them up, and include them here:
14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

San Jacinto Councilman Scott Miller honors Harrison and wishes him a happy birthday from the city of San Jacinto.

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