In June 1941, after his mother died and he graduated from high school, Sam Harper joined the Marine Corps. A recruiter told him he would get an education at the Marines’ engineer school. “It was the first time the Marines lied to me, but it wasn’t the last,” he says.
Assigned to the 1st Marine Division, Sam took part in the first land combat against the Japanese on Guadalcanal on August 7, 1942. After being sent home (with malaria) to train with M4 tanks, Sam went overseas again for the invasion of Saipan in June 1944. After Saipan there was Tinian. Then came Iwo Jima. Sam landed with the initial wave with the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines, 3rd Marine Division. “It was a tough operation.” His closest call came when an enemy artillery shell landed ten feet away and didn’t explode.
After three weeks, he was taken off the island. As he was being trained for the invasion of Japan, Sam heard about the atomic bombs and the Japanese surrender. He was discharged in October 1945.
During the spring of 2013, Winchester-Thurston School students in US History and Advanced Placement US History worked to gather and interpret the memories and stories of Pittsburgh area veterans who served between 1941-1973.
The students completed intensive preparation, including workshops on the oral history process, lectures on special considerations when interviewing veterans, active listening, and oral history ethics. From there, they learned about the context of their veterans’ service and collaboratively developed a list of interview questions.
Using the stories they collected as a window into the human dimensions of war, combat, military service, etc., students worked to select meaningful moments, memories, or stories from their interviews, and to analyze and interpret the history they collected.
Sam’s interview begins at 40:00.
Samuel R. Harper Jr., formerly of Edgewood, died on Sunday, January 4, 2015, at age 91. Beloved husband of the late Nell S. Harper, since 1943; dear father of Jane (Doug) Taylor of New Jersey and Thomas R. (Jacquelyn) Harper of Forest Hills; grandfather of Megan (Adam) Michel and Ethan (Megan) Taylor; great- grandfather of Liam, Kate, Maddie and Sam; brother of Fay Carter and the late Evelyn Studt Clemente.
Sam was Past Master and Secretary of F & A.M. Orient Lodge #683 for 21 years and a WWII combat veteran of the Marine Corps serving in Guadalcanal, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima. He worked for 30 years at Dravo Corp.