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Local veteran Ray Harmon recounts his days in Vietnam War aiding wounded soldiers

By Thomas Sellers Jr.

Harmon with his son Skip at his eatery in Millington Skip’s Catfish.

The walls of Skip’s Sports Grill & Wings Restaurant are decorated with sports memorabilia from professional to the local Millington Central High School Trojans.

But its one wall in particular that makes owner Skip Harmon swell up with pride.

Just a few feet away from the bar are pictures of Skip’s dad Rayman during his years of service for the United States Navy as hospital corpsman.

From 1961-68, the elder Harmon serviced in Japan, Korea and Vietnam. The boy who grew up in Northeast Arkansas had a chance to travel the world before settling in Bartlett.

With a desire to leave the rural farming life waiting for him in the Natural State, Harmon made a decision to service his country. But he had one stipulation.

“I wanted to be clean,” he acknowledged. “I didn’t want to get dirty. I had times when I was in the field for different things. I went to the field for the Marine Corps. I went to Camp Pendleton for field med school there.”

Before heading over seas to work in hospitals, Harmon was trained and stationed in San Diego, Calif. Then it was a three-year stay in the Memphis area.  Then it was time for the young man from the South to head to the Pacific.

“My first year over there, I was on an aircraft carrier,” he recalled. “I think we had 37 people killed on that cruise. That included the pilots who were shot down and never came back. We had some in-kill right there on the flight deck.”

With a huge dose of reality, Harmon knew what his mission was during the Vietnam War. He said his job was to get those who could still fight back on the field of battle.

And those who needed more care Harmon helped get them safe on transportation to medical facilities.

“I didn’t do anything exceptional,” he said. “I didn’t shine. There were people who could outshine me in a heartbeat. I was too scared a lot of the time.”

Harmon saw death but did help to keep several soldiers alive. He worked not only with American troops but he assisted in the medical care of Koreans.

“We treated the sick and wounded,” Harmon noted. “We got them back out on the field. For every troop on the field there are 10 men behind him.”

Harmon was one of the men behind the soldiers who survived on the battle field of Vietnam. In theory he didn’t get mud on his hands, but Harmon was left with lasting images of how dirty war can get.

“My job was as clean as it could be,” he said. “But you’re not clean when you’re handling gushing wounds and stopping the blood here. And right over there 10 feet away is another one. And you had to do it all over again.

“You’re hands are not clean,” Harmon continued. “I wasn’t like the guys in the infantry. They were there and they stayed there. I would just go into an area and come right back out.”

The photos in his son’s restaurant tell a part of his story. The image of one of the ships he served on spark tales and trips down memory lane. And just like Skip, Harmon swells up with a sense of accomplishment when talking about the pictures on the wall.

“I’m just proud I did it,” he concluded. “I think everybody deep inside wants to serve their country. I think I did the right thing.”

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November 2012
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