Soldier comes home at last

People wait for hours to greet hearse carrying recently identified remains of Roy Harms ahead of May 6 burial ceremony for Grafton man killed in WWII
Ozaukee Press staff

The remains of 1st Lt. Roy Harms, who was killed in an ill-fated World War II battle, were returned to Grafton Friday in preparation for burial this weekend.

A crowd of about 100 people waited for hours in the cold Friday to greet the hearse carrying Harms’ remains as it entered the village and made its way to Mueller Funeral Home.

Along the way, the hearse slowly drove by the Rose-Harms American Legion Hall, which was named in part for Harms — the first Grafton soldier killed in World War II — and past his grandparents’ home in the village.

“It gave you goosebumps,” Allen Buchholz, a member of the committee planning Harms’ burial ceremony, said. “It was really moving.”

Especially moving, he said, was the crowd that greeted the procession, which included the Sons of the American Legion and a contingent of high school students who parked their trucks embellished with flags on the road leading to the funeral home and stood alongside the vehicles.

Harms’ remains were brought to Milwaukee from Nebraska, where they were identified last year by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, via a Southwest flight that landed at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee three hours late, Buchholz said.

Among those waiting was Mike Murphy of Portage, Harms’ nephew, he said.

A contingent of squad cars and fire trucks waited on the tarmac as an Army honor guard took the remains off the plane and placed them in the hearse, he said.

“It was pretty spectacular,” Buchholz said.

At the gates of the airport, about 30 Legion Riders from throughout southeastern Wisconsin and members of the State Patrol joined the procession, which was led by Grafton Police Chief Jeff Caponera, Buchholz said.

The Grafton fire department was waiting when the group exited I-43 at Highway 60, Buchholz said, and Camponera radioed, “Lt. Harms is home,” which the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office put out over the scanner.

“It was like the final watch call for fallen police officers,” Buchholz said.

Along the route, the procession passed a group at Veterans Park holding a large American flag.

At the funeral home, members of the Legion Riders and the Legion Post transferred Harms’ remains inside.

It’s ironic, Buchholz said, that Mueller Funeral Home sits on the Coulson family homestead — Harms’ mother was Jenny Coulson — and just four doors down from the home where Harms’ parents settled after they married.

Now, the focus in on Harms’ burial, which will be held on Saturday, May 6.

Forty-six of Harms’ descendants will travel to Grafton from as far away as California and Arizona for the ceremony, and the public is invited to take part as well.

“I’d love to see it elbow-to-elbow,” Buchholz said, adding that a number of World War II veterans are planning to attend.

People are asked to line North Street between 12th and Third avenues at 11:15 a.m. Saturday, when the procession sets off from the funeral home for the roughly 15-minute journey to  Woodlawn Cemetery, where Harms will be buried next to his parents, Jenny and Ben Harms.

The burial procession will be led by members of the Rose-Harms American Legion Post and Auxiliary and the Sons of the American Legion — the Legion post carries Harms’ name as the first Grafton resident killed in World War II.

The Grafton Boy Scouts — Harms was the first Eagle Scout in Grafton — will follow, carrying a large photo of Harms that will be placed at his gravesite.

A hearse carrying Harms’ remains will follow the Scouts, then his descendants will proceed to the cemetery.

The ceremony will be run by the Army, Buchholz said, noting the honor guard, chaplain and bugler will all be supplied by the military. However, the national anthem will be sung by a member of the Grafton Legion.

The Ozaukee County Historical Society will hand out flags for the procession, Buchholz said, and people living along the route are asked to display flags that day.

Gov. Tony Evers has declared Saturday Roy Harms Day in Wisconsin and flags are to fly at half staff that day, Buchholz said.

The ceremony will be a fitting tribute to Harms, a 26-year-old who was a first lieutenant in the Army Air Force when he was killed during Operation Tidal Wave, an ill-fated attack on nine oil refineries around Ploesti, Romania.

The battle was one of the costliest for the Army Air Force during the war, with 53 aircraft and 660 crewmen lost.

Harms was a member of the 329th Bombardment Squadron, 93rd Bombardment Unit, who piloted a B-24 Liberator during Operation Tidal Wave. Of the 183 bombers that left Benghazi, Libya, on the mission, only 175 reached Romania.

The attack was to be a surprise, with the planes flying at treetop level to evade radar, but the surprise was on the Americans, he said. The Germans were waiting for the planes and decimated the ranks of the Allies.

Harms’ plane, Hell’s Angel, was among those shot down. Seven of the crew members were killed. One member parachuted out and was quickly captured.

Romanians in the area buried the bodies and remains they found in the Ploesti area, Buchholz said. After the war, the U.S. Graves Commission moved the unidentified remains to the Ardennes American Cemetery near Liege, Belgium, where they stayed until about 10 years ago, when the DPAA brought them to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska for testing.

The DPAA obtained DNA from Harms’ sister Laura Harms Murphy, who had always held out hope her brother would be identified and brought home, and her son Tim Murphy.

Mrs. Murphy, the youngest of Harms’ siblings, died in 2020.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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