U.S. Navy Veteran Bill Harrison: A Story of True Faith

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez presents Navy veteran Bill Harrison a cake on his 94th birthday. Murrieta 24/7 photos: Doug Spoon At t...

Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez presents Navy veteran Bill Harrison a cake on his 94th birthday.
Murrieta 24/7 photos: Doug Spoon

At this time of year, even as so many celebrate Christmas, recent world events have resulted in religious debates and the faith of some have been shaken. They say they are consumed with fear and have lost hope.

They haven't met Bill Harrison.

A World War II U.S. Navy veteran and resident of Hemet, Harrison is the epitome of faith and perseverance. In September 1945, barely a month after the war ended, he and eight other sailors were stranded at sea on a tiny life raft after a typhoon capsized their ship off the coast of Japan. Six days later, only four of the nine were still alive when they finally were rescued.

Harrison says he knows the reason he and the others survived without food or water for nearly a week. And he shares what he believes with everyone he meets. A popular motivational speaker virtually ever since he was discharged from the Navy decades ago, Harrison was honored by Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez at her Murrieta office Friday on his 94th birthday.

Melendez, herself a Navy veteran, presented Harrison with a proclamation which read, in part:

Throughout his lifetime, Bill Harrison has demonstrated his perseverance, steadfastness, honesty and integrity, which have earned him the respect and sincere admiration of his family, his many friends and the countless others whose lives he has touched. In recognition of the courageous manner with which he served and sacrificed in safeguarding our democratic principles for this generation and the generations to come, he is deserving of admiration and praise now, therefore be it.

"Mr. Harrison’s story and outlook on life has truly inspired me, as with so many others," said Melendez. "I am humbled and honored to be able to recognize Mr. Harrison on his birthday."

Enjoying a piece of chocolate birthday cake, Harrison was honest and sincere in his discussion about the 1945 ordeal, which is the subject of a book "6 Days on a Raft," co-authored with Forrest Haggerty.

"I have a terrific Christian heritage," he said. "My mother always felt in her prayer life she had a direct pipeline to heaven. That helped a lot. I know from the third day on, God took care of my thirst problem and my hunger problem."

The sailor's challenges began as they were tossed in and out of the life raft for the last six horrific hours of the typhoon. After the waves settled, they began the real ordeal of survival. Without food, water or supplies of any kind, some of the men resorted to the unhealthy practice of drinking sea water. Others began hallucinating. One fell out of the raft and was eaten by a shark.

"I was trying to help the guys who were drinking the most ocean water, trying to keep them out of it," Harrison recalled. "I would hold their hands and when they would go to sleep and get numb, I would shake life back into them.

"At the end of the sixth day, I made up my mind I was going to die. I didn't think I'd see daylight the next day. I felt real weak."

Looking off in the distance, Harrison spotted a mountain on a tiny island the sailors had previously tried to paddle to without success. Haggerty picks up the story there.

"Bill said as he was looking at the island, he remembered a verse in the Bible his mother used to share with him: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, God can move a mountain," his co-author said. "It was like this light went on. He told the other guys, 'We haven't been rescued because we haven't had faith.' They started singing and praying, and 45 minutes later they saw three airplanes. The pilot of the plane who rescued them said had it been 10 minutes later, they would've had to wait until the next day to try the rescue."

To Harrison, there is no doubt in his mind why that rescue took place. It was also a teaching moment for him with the other sailors.

"Looking off in the distance when I saw that mountain, it was such a blessing and I knew God was going to help us out," Harrison said. "I told the boys, 'Let's go to prayer and let's have faith, let's believe.'

"I prayed first. I told them we need to ask God to forgive us of anything we've done in the past that wasn't pleasing to Him. And I promised God that if He sent help, I would do everything in my power to further the cause of faith in God.

"My buddy next to me said, 'Bill, tell me again, how do I get faith?' I told him the best way is to thank God for what he's going to do, even though you don't see it. He prayed and at the end of his prayer, instead of saying Amen, he said, 'Much obliged, God.' "

That brought a smile to the face of a man who for 70 years has kept a promise he made to God.

"My two older brothers died at 55 and my dad died at 67," he said. "Here I am at 94. But I know God had a job for me to do. One is to speak to as many schools as I can. I always heard you couldn't talk about prayer in schools. Well, I've talked to over 30 schools in the last year and a half and I've yet to find a principal who told me I couldn't.

"I started talking two weeks after I got discharged from the Navy and I haven't stopped yet."

"6 Days on a Raft" is available on amazon.com and through many other outlets. There are plans to make Harrison's story into a movie.




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