General Ernest Nason Harmon
Ernest Nason Harmon was born in Lowell, Massachusetts on February 26, 1894, son of Ernest and Junietta (Spaulding) Harmon. Orphaned at the age of 10, Ernest went to live with relatives in West Newbury, Vermont, where he attended high school at Bradford Academy, graduating in 1912. After attending Norwich University for one year, Harmon received an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1917 as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, Cavalry. He married Minnie Leona Tuxbury on August 15, 1917.
On March 17, 1918, Harmon left for France with the 2nd Cavalry “F Troop”, the only cavalry unit to see overseas duty in World War I. During tours of duty in Georgia, Vermont, Kansas, Washington D.C., Texas, and Kentucky, Harmon advanced through grades to the rank of major general in 1942, when he became commanding general of the famous “Hell on Wheels” 2nd Armored Division, leaving the states for the invasion of North Africa. His on-site reporting and interventions during the Kasserine Pass battles against Rommel’s German 10th Panzer Division, helped stabilize and reorganize the U.S. Army II Corps, which had been thrown into disorder after the initial German attack.
General Harmon later commanded the 1st Armored Division during the Tunisian, Cassino, and Anzio campaigns, the capture of Rome, and the advance north to the Arno River in Italy. Harmon’s corps commander in North Africa, Major General Omar N. Bradley, stated that, “more than any other division commander in North Africa, he [Harmon] was constantly and brilliantly aggressive,” adding that, in Europe, “he was to become our most outstanding tank commander.” General George S. Patton, Harmon’s commander on two occasions in North Africa, stated: “If it is desired to have an Armored Corps [for operations in the European Theater of Operations], I should recommend General Harmon to command it.” General Harmon and General Patton were good friends and sometimes vacationed and hunted together.
In 1944, after returning to the 2nd Armored Division in Belgium as its commander, General Harmon and his division gained fame when they broke through the Siefried Line at Aachen, Germany and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. In 1945, Harmon received orders to turn over his command to the British and move his Corps Headquarters near to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia (Dysina). One of the huge tasks which lay before him was to negotiate and oversee good relations between the U.S. and Soviet troops on the demarcation line. In his autobiography, “Combat Commander”, Harmon writes: “By the time I arrived in Czechoslovakia and assumed command of 110,000 American troops, lined up face to face with the Russian army along a demarcation line that knifed through Bohemia fifty miles west of Prague, it was evident that our wartime alliance with the Soviet Union was already breaking up.”
On August 15, Harmon staged a big celebration in Pilsen, with three U.S. infantry divisions, two armored divisions, plus supporting artillery, passing by the reviewing stand filled with principal Russian generals and their staff officers, as well as Czech cabinet ministers. In his book, Harmon states his strategic reason for this: “It seemed important to me, in our relations with the Russians, to make sure they had a clear picture of our military power.”
In January 1946, Harmon took command of the VI Corps, which became the U.S. Constabulary. He served as Commanding General of the Third United States Army from January 10, 1947 to March 14, 1947, and then served as Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Ground Forces, from March 1947, until his retirement in February 1948.
General Harmon, often referred to as “Old Gravel Voice” by his soldiers, was known and highly respected as a “fighting man’s general”. He received numerous decorations and medals, including theCzechoslovakian Military Cross 1939 and the Czech Order of the White Lion.
From 1950 to 1965, General Harmon served as president of Norwich University where, during his tenure as president, he considerably expanded the physical campus of the university and the size of the student body, as well as raising the quality of the faculty members and strengthening the institution’s financial stability.
Three years before his death, Harmon wrote a forward for the book, “Hell on Wheels”, a history of the 2nd Armored Division during World War II. In his forward, he wrote: “No greater privilege can occur in the career of any soldier than to be given the command of troops in combat. This is always true and applies to any organizational echelon, from squad to field army. But the most satisfying command slot is the one with the double X on the map symbol, the division. Moreover, when you add the old tank tread to the symbol to designate one of the army’s few armored divisions, you have the greatest of all commands. At least, this was my thought when I first took over the Hell on Wheels division, 2d Armored, on July 31, 1942.” General Harmon died at the age of 85 on November 13, 1979.