SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- A Medal of Honor ceremony was held at Commander, Naval Surface Forces headquarters in San Diego, for the family of Lt. Cmdr. Jackson Charles “Jack” Pharris Oct. 2.
The Medal of Honor and Navy Cross that Pharris received for his bravery during the attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, were found in a safe deposit box four years ago by the State of California.
The ceremony honored the Pharris family, which included Pharris’ two sons, and returned the Medal of Honor to them after four years of unsuccessful attempts to locate it.
“It is my distinct honor to remember a surface force hero and to reunite a family with a lost family treasure,” said Vice Adm. Terrance T. Etnyre, Commander, Naval Surface Forces, during the ceremony. “It is even more appropriate that we do so right here in this courtyard, a site dedicated to all of the surface warriors who have earned our nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor.”
After Pharris’ death in 1966, the medal had been stored in a safe deposit box by his daughter, who passed away unexpectedly. As the medal was not covered in her will, it became the property of the State of California. New legislation allowed the state to contact the family to reunite them with the medal.
“These tokens of a nation’s gratitude are not the state’s property, they are part of this family’s heritage, and to that family they belong,” said John Chiang, controller, State of California, during his remarks.
His family was grateful for the return of the medal.
“On behalf of my family, I would like to thank you very much for returning it to us,” said retired Lt. Col. Jackson Pharris II, after being presented with his father’s Medal of Honor. “I would like to accept it on behalf of those who have served in the past and those who are serving today.”
President Truman originally awarded the Medal of Honor to Pharris in 1948 for heroism displayed aboard the battleship USS California (BB 44) during the attack on Pearl Harbor. According to the medal’s citation, Pharris, who was in charge of the ordnance repair party, “acted on his own initiative to set up a hand-supply ammunition train for the antiaircraft guns. With water and oil rushing in where the port bulkhead had been torn up by the deck, with many of the remaining crew members overcome by oil fumes, and the ship without power and listing heavily to port as a result of the second torpedo hit, Lt. Pharris ordered the shipfitters to counterflood [in an effort to save the ship].”
Even though Pharris was knocked unconscious and restricted by his injuries, “he persisted in his desperate efforts to speed up the supply of ammunition and at the same time repeatedly risked his life to enter flooding compartments and drag to safety unconscious shipmates who were gradually being submerged in oil.” Pharris was credited with saving the lives of many of his shipmates and allowing the Califormia to remain able to respond during the attack. Local Pearl Harbor survivors attended the ceremony to honor the former Sailor and shipmate.
“The Navy honored Lt. Cmdr. Pharris shortly after his death with a Knox-class frigate that proudly carried his name from 1974 to 1992,” said Etnyre. “I am pleased to recognize him once again today, by remembering his heroic actions and reuniting his family with an award he so selflessly earned.”
During USS Pharris’ (FF 1094) Mediterranean cruise (1987-1988) she escorted Mighty Servant 2 carrying USS Samuel B. Roberts, which had been badly damaged after it struck an Iranian mine, from the entrance of the Persian Gulf to about halfway up the Red Sea. The ship earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for its part in Operation Earnest Will, which was the U.S. military effort to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers during the Iran-Iraq War. It was the largest naval convoy operation since World War II.
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