ABERDEEN, S.D. — It’s been nearly 33 years since his death, but friends and supporters of Cecil Harris are working to properly recognize the World War II flying ace.
A quest to raise $95,000 for a statue of Harris that will be placed on the Northern State University campus in Aberdeen is ticking in the right direction, but is still $17,000 short, they said. However, the task isn’t as steep as it might seem. If fundraising hits $85,000, an anonymous donation will cover the final $10,000, said Norma Miller, of Aberdeen and formerly of Cresbard.
Harris was born in Cresbard in 1916 and his story is well known across northeast South Dakota. He attended Northern State Teachers College and, in 1941, enlisted in the U.S. Naval Air Corps. During his time serving in the Pacific Theater, he shot down 24 enemy aircraft in about a month’s time. The total ranked him second in the entire Navy. He died in 1981.
Jerry Krueger of Aberdeen is a Navy veteran and one of the people who spent more than a decade working to get the Congressional Medal of Honor awarded to Harris posthumously. That goal was never accomplished, and the idea of funding a statue has replaced it, he said.
Most of the work on the statue, being done by Aberdeen artist Benjamin Victor, is finished, Krueger said. It will eventually be placed between two pillars on the northern side of the NSU campus, he said.
Harris graduated from Northern, and the NSU Foundation has established an account for the collection of funds for the statue.
After his time in the military, Harris went home to Cresbard, where he taught, coached and served as principal until he was called to active duty in the Korean War. After that tour, he never returned to live in Cresbard.
Miller said her husband, Jerry, remembers Harris’ service at the school.
“I remember (my husband) saying, ‘Cecil always knew when you were up to no good,’” Miller said.
Harris was also the principal when Bob Swanhorst, a Cresbard native and star athlete, was in school.
“He was such a hero. I mean, every girl in school had a crush on him,” said Swanhorst, who now lives in Sioux Falls.
Since the matching funds were announced a few months ago, there have been some donations, Swanhorst said, but he would like to have seen more. He said it’s time to get the project done and give Harris his proper recognition.
Harris’ wife, Eva, is still living, and Swanhorst said he wants her to be able to see the finished statue.
Miller said many people in the small community of Cresbard have already made donations. The American Legion post has made two contributions, she said, so she’s hopeful others will note the worthy cause and feel generous.
Several folks working on raising funds will be in Aberdeen and meet with Victor on March 6 to get a glimpse of the statue, Swanhorst said.