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Sam K. Harrison
Sam K. Harrison in the left of the photograph
Birth name Samuel Kazar Harootenian
Nickname The man who refused to die
Born (1908-12-12)December 12, 1908
Died January 1, 1994(1994-01-01) (aged 85)
Place of birth Chicago, Illinois
Place of death San Francisco, California
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army seal United States Army
Years of service April 1, 1943 – February, 1946
Rank Army-USA-OR-04a.svg Corporal

World War II:

  • Rhineland
  • Central Europe
  • Ardennes
  • Northern France
Awards Purple Heart BAR.svg Purple Heart
American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal
Army Good Conduct ribbon.svg Good Conduct Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg European Campaign Medal (4)
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg World War II Victory Medal
Spouse(s) Audrey Winter[1]

Sam K. Harrison or Sam Kazar Harootenian (December 12, 1908 – January 1, 1994) was a Corporal of the United States Army during World War II. He served nine months overseas and participated in the campaigns of Northern France, Ardennes, Rhineland and Central Europe.

Sam Harrison is known as "the man who refused to die" due to the numerous injuries he sustained while in combat. During a battle, Harrison lost his left arm, kneecap, and three fingers on his right hand. Although he was pronounced dead, he managed to survive. Despite 27 months in hospitals and 33 surgical operations,[2] he went on to found and head two successful corporations and attain high civic honors.[3]

Early life

Of Armenian descent, Harrison was born December 12, 1908 in Chicago, Illinois, the second son of Kazar, who was a farmer near Fowler, California and Mariam (Kazarian) Harrison, a housewife, both from Kharpert, Ottoman Empire.[4] His older brothers name was George and sisters were Agnes and Syble.[4]

Military service

Harrison decided to join the American military. He was assigned to the 280th Field Artillery Battalion which was activated at Camp Cooke (today Vandenberg Air Force Base) in California. The Battalion was then moved to Fort Sill in Oklahoma in February 1944, for a three-month stay at Field Artillery School. He then trained for overseas duty at Camp Polk, Louisiana.[4]

World War II

Harrison was sent overseas to partake in the European theatre of World War II. He embarked from Boston on the USS West Point on September 7, 1944, and landed at Utah Beach, Normandy, on September 18, 1944. He soon engaged in the Battle of the Hurtgen Forest and by February 6, 1945, he was on the West Side of the Roer River. As part of the first Artillery Battalion of the 9th Army, he was given the task to cross the Roer River on February 24.[4]

"Face up to it, Sam, decide right now how you'll take all this. Someday you'll be out in the world, crippled. Will you whine and complain and lose all your friends? Are you going to talk, talk, talk about it, tell how you're suffering, get everybody to pitying you-and running from you? Or are you going to smile, shut up about your pains, be warmly interested in other people, and forget yourself by helping others?"

 —Sam K. Harrison after his injuries[5]

Harrison recalled his part in the push to the Rhine: "Our artillery scouts made their own reconnaissance and went into position as an isolated unit; reached the Rhine on March 5, 1945; crossed the Rhine on March 27, 1945."[4] He was then part of the drive to the Elbe and reached Hanover by April 2, 1945.[4]

In Hanover and just three weeks before the war ended,[1] Harrison and other American combatants of the No. 1 gun of the 280th Field Artillery were hit by a German gun directed from an observation tower mounted on a steeple of a church.[4] The German gun, which had a direct hit on their gunning position, caused three deaths, wounded five and stunned twenty-five American combatants.[4] Of the living wounded, Harrison was nearest to death; his left arm was torn off near the shoulder, lost three fingers on his right hand, his right knee had been crushed and his pelvic bones were shattered.[6][7] When Harrison demanded a tourniquet, one of the combatants ripped off his web belt and tied it around the leg.[5] A moment later a medic applied a real tourniquet.[5] Then Harrison was transported to a field hospital where he underwent emergency surgeries. According the Harrison, the doctors stated that "we'd better list him as killed in action" and another said "He'll die on the operating table."[5]

Having survived the surgeries, Sam K. Harrison was then transferred to a hospital in Paris and was not expected to live.[2] Even though Harrison showed signs of recovery, his recovery slowed down considerably when news of both his parents death reached him.[2]

Once Harrison reached stable condition, he was sent back to the United States and transferred to the Bushnell Hospital in Brigham City, Utah for more operations.[8] Harrison was then transferred to the Letterman Army Hospital in San Francisco where he was given a wheelchair and intensive rehabilitation. After surgeons had grafted bones into his crushed knee, Harrison began to walk again with the help of a cane and leg brace.[8]

Later life

After being discharged on March 17, 1947, Harrison returned to the United States and lived in San Francisco on 4612 Nineteenth Street.[7] He and Eugene Bonini, who was another veteran of the war, opened a hardware store in 1946. The company grew by providing a surplus of military goods to major governmental institutions and private companies such as the U.S. Navy, local ship repair facilities and commercial businesses, Aerojet General, and Campbell Soup.[9]

In 1950, Harrison started the On-Off Chemical Corporation, which manufactured and distributed On-Off, a waterless cleaner for hands.[10]

Sam K. Harrison died on January 1, 1994. He had no children.

Military awards

Harrison's military awards include:[3]

Purple Heart
American Campaign Medal
Good Conduct Medal
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with four bronze campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal

Community service

Sam Harrison was appointed to the Board of Trustees as Vice-President[11] of the War Memorial of San Francisco in 1949 by Mayor Elmer E. Robinson and elected President of the Board of Trustees in December 1954.[10] He was reappointed for five additional six-year terms.[12]

He was the past second Vice-Commander of the American Legion of Zan Irwin Post No. 93; a life member of Veterans of Foreign Wars; a life member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart; Disabled American Veterans Organizer and First Commander of the William Randolph Hearst Chapter No. 144[13] and Past Commander of the San Francisco Chapter No. 3.[10]

At the request of the Commanding General of Letterman Army Hospital, he engaged in extensive rehabilitation work with wounded Korean War veterans between 1950 and 1956.[10]

Other organizations which Harrison was a member of includes the San Francisco Traffic Club (honorary member), State of California Armenian-American Citizen's League (honorary life-member), Commonwealth Club and the American National Committee to Aid Homeless Armenians (ANCHA).[10]

Recognition and legacy

Harrison was nationally named "Hero of the Year" for rehabilitation work by the Disabled American Veterans in 1950.[7][14][15]

He was the subject of the article entitled "The Man Who Refused to Die" by Vera Connolly, published in Red Book Magazine, October 1951. The article was reprinted in Reader's Digest, March 1952 and also reprinted in book form by Twayne Publishers and released as an anthology in 1953 entitled "Courage is the Key."[10][16]

He was deemed as a Knight of the Order of the Compassionate Heart on December 18, 1975.[10]

Harrison was the subject of a radio play entitled "The Empty Sleeve" by Irve Tunick which aired on an hour long nationwide broadcast in August 14, 1951 on the CBS network.[6]

He was the subject of an article "A Universal Experience: My Favorite Story" by Vera Connolly published by the United States Department of Labor and printed by the President's Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped.[1]

Former San Francisco mayor Elmer E. Robinson said about Harrison:[12]

Sam Harrison is an inspiration to everyone who knows him. His tremendous force of character is evident in his fight back to a position of great usefulness to this community. He's a wonderful American. He sets us all a great example of patriotism and unselfish community service.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Connolly, Vera (1968). Performance: the story of the handicapped (Vol. 19 ed.). President's Committee on Employment of the Physically Handicapped. p. 43. Retrieved 17 June 2013. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Tashjian 1952, p. 170.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Demirjian 1996, p. 305.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 Demirjian 1996, p. 306.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Demirjian 1996, p. 307.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Tashjian 1952, p. 169.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Congressional Serial Set 11598. United States Government Printing Office. 1951. p. 168. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Demirjian 1996, p. 308.
  9. "Our History". Harrison & Bonini. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 Demirjian 1996, p. 310.
  11. "WAR MEMORIAL OPERA HOUSE". The San Francisco Symphony Association. 1954. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 Demirjian 1996, p. 311.
  13. Disabled American Veterans (1953). Report of the Annual Convention. p. 165. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 
  14. "'Hero of the Year' Named". August 10, 1950. "A San Francisco war veteran who is earning his own way after thirty-two surgical operations was named "Hero of the Year" today by the Disabled American Veterans. Sam K. Harrison, an Army veteran, will receive his award at the D. A. V. convention opening Sunday. He lost an arm and three fingers but is now president of a chemical corporation and senior partner of a sales firm." 
  15. "DAV Hero of the Year". August 9, 1950. p. 8. 
  16. Alexander Klein, ed (1953). Courage is the Key. Twayne Publishers. Retrieved 18 June 2013. 

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