World War II veteran Harold Tor dies; helped free 2,000 prisoners in raid
By GREG MELLEN | The Orange County Register | Published: November 17, 2017
HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — Harold Tor lost part of his left arm in the Philippines in World War II, but never lost his spirit or his zest for life.
Despite the lost limb, Tor would go on to become an accomplished sailor, private pilot and the life of almost any party he attended.
Tor died of natural causes Wednesday, Nov. 15, in Huntington Beach. He was 90.
A longtime member of American Legion Post 133, a former military grand marshal of the city’s Fourth of July Parade and a genuine war hero, Tor faked his age to enlist in the Army as a 16-year-old. A paratrooper, although he only saw action in the waning days of the war, he survived heavy action in the Pacific, twice being wounded and earning a bronze star for guiding a general away from enemy fire.
He also helped free 2,000 prisoners in a raid on Los Banos, and survived a glider crash landing in New Guinea and several beach landings under fire.
Tor lost the lower half of his left forearm and was the lone survivor of a Japanese ambush in the Philippines. Despite being badly wounded, he was able to tie his injured arm off with a tourniquet and remain hidden until rescuers arrived.
One of Tor’s sons, Norman Tor, said his father’s spirit and will to survive were with him until the very end.
“I never saw him feeling sorry for himself,” Norman Tor said. “I believe he went out with courage.”
Around American Legion Post 133, Tor was remembered as a chatty, lively member.
“He was a talker,” said Dennis Bauer of the American Legion, on Thursday. “Whenever he got on the phone, I knew it would be at least a half-hour. He always had a joke. I’ve been thinking about him all morning.”
Dave Sullivan, a former councilman, friend and fellow Legion member, remembered Tor telling sometimes racy jokes.
Sullivan said at one event, he decided to introduce the Rev. Christian Mondor, a Franciscan friar, to Tor. When Tor launched into a “pretty raw” joke about a priest and a rabbi, Sullivan recalled, with a laugh, that he felt it was best to move Mondor along.
Life wasn’t always a party for Tor, though. According to Bauer and Sullivan, Tor at times would despair about what his fighting had been for.
Tor would speak about his war experiences at elementary schools. One year, after speaking at Harbour View Elementary, Tor suffered a heart attack. While he was recovering, hundreds of children at the school wrote him get-well cards, Bauer recalled.
“That turned him around,” said Bauer. “He said, ‘There’s the reason I served.'”
Despite Tor’s chatty nature, many of the elements of his service, like being the lone survivor of the Japanese attack, were unknown. It wasn’t until Sullivan’s grandson, Brian, interviewed Tor for a junior high report, that the story emerged.
After leaving the Army, Tor held a variety of jobs. The son of a vaudeville performer, he had bit parts in a number of Hollywood movies. He also owned some businesses and did well in scrap metal, according to Norman Tor.
Tor became an accomplished sailor, competing in regattas with the California Yacht Club and races to Mexico. He also was a licensed pilot.
He joked that he became a paratrooper in the Army because it paid $50 a month more. At the age of 87, Tor went tandem skydiving at Lake Elsinore to record his 60th jump.
Tor was married three times and had six children. Norman Tor said his dad’s comment about three marriages was, “I had the three most wonderful mother-in-laws.”
Tor was preceded in death by his third wife, Donna, next to whom he will be buried.
Harold Tor is survived by his six children: Norman Tor, of Torrance; Phillip Tor, of Tucson, Ariz.; David Tor, of Devon Exeter, England; Elizabeth Schwintz, of Ennis, Texas; Bethel Lira, of Monrovia; and Jonathan Tor, of Valencia; and 15 grandchildren.
There will be a graveside service at 9:30 a.m., Monday, Nov. 20, at Forest Lawn, 6300 Forest Lawn Drive, Los Angeles.
©2017 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)
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