Internet Gathers Harmon's Friends, Family
by Mike Rostad, Special to the Kodiak Mirror, June 2003

The Internet is blamed for all sorts of woes, like making inappropriate material available to children and breaking up marriages. Yet, like television, its bane or blessing often depends upon the intentions of the user.

Friends and family of war hero Dan Harmon credit the Internet, e-mail and Web sites with bringing them into contact with each other for the memorial service on Woody Island that honored Harmon. The service was one of the highlights of the annual Woody Island Tribal Council retreat (see separate story).

But long before this late 20th century technology wonder became a household amenity, Harmon's people were searching for each other. His buddy, Jim Umberger, who went on several missions with Dan, looked up the Harmon family while on Kodiak for maneuvers. At the time, Umberger was stationed in Anchorage at Fort Richardson and his [Harmon's] family had left the island [Kodiak] so Umberger didn't get very far in his search.

"He told me they were going to have a memorial for Danny on Woody Island. When he said 'Are you gonna go?' I said, 'If at all possible, yes, even if I have to hock the kids." - Jim Umberger

Ron Coon, whose life was saved through Harmon's heroic efforts, temporarily put his Vietnam experiences behind him. But in the 1980's he began a list of those he served with and made attempts to contact them. Eventually Coon, who lives in Cook, MN, developed a website with information on the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol (LRRP) unit he served in.

One of the fellow veterans Coon contacted was Jack Hall, who wrote a book about the unit.

Hall called Umberger, who lives in Virginia. "That's when I first heard about the platoon guys getting in touch with each other," Umberger said.

"Jack asked me if I had been in the second division [brigade]. I said I had. He said, 'There was a guy they called 'ridge-runner', and I said "you're talking to him'. I didn't hear anything else after that from him."

Umberger also obtained updates about his unit through other sources. One night his kids were on the Internet when they excitedly called him into the room. They had logged on to a LRRP (pronounced "lurp") web site. "Isn't this the outfit you served in during the Vietnam War?" they asked. Umberger replied that it was. When they clicked onto the site for the Second Brigade the kids recognized a familiar face. "There you are, Dad," they told him.

Umberger e-mailed Coon, the Webmaster, and the men got togtether three years ago for a reuniion with fellow veterans from the LRRP in Savannah, GA.

At that time Coon gave Umberger a specific account of Dan Harmon's death. Although Umberger heard of Harmon's death shortly after it occurred, he didn't know the details until he met up with Coon.

Lapolla, the lieutenant who organized the LRRP [in 1966], was also at the Reunion. He is currently the Director for the Center for Health Policy Research at Oklahoma [State] University in Tulsa.

Lapolla said Vietnam vets started making contact with each other in the late 1990's, about 30 years after they served in Vietnam.

"That's about the same time the Internet and World Wide Web started allowing people to communicate [more effectively]. There was an explosion in communications [capability] in the very late 1990's until now. This year the Vietnam [war] is 30 years since the end of the war. When we were in Vietnam, the WWII guys were probably finding each other again and having their reunions." But they did so without the help of the Internet.

Bob Crawford, another veteran LRRP, showed up at the reunion too. He hadn't known Dan Harmon, but heard a lot about him. He lives in [West] Fargo, ND - only 300 miles from Coon. The two contacted each other frequently in their search for more fellow veterans.

"We started calling back and forth and writing down names. He'd remember a name; I'd remember a name. The more we talked about it, the more it came back. We found a lot of people through the web site," Crawford said.

The web site was not the only network for fellow LRRPs, but also a link to Harmon's family.

Coon was able to secure the address of Cindy Harmon, the wife of Dan's brother Maurice, after she logged onto the LRRP website. He sent an e-mail to her, but didn't hear anything for along time, he said. "I e-mailed her again and got an e-mail back about the Woody Island Tribal Council reunion on Woody Island. She said "I think they want you to come." Within a week, I got an e-mail from the Tribal Council. That e-mail confirmed [Cindy] Harmon's.

Umberger heard about the reunion from Coon. "He called me up and said,'Guess what! We've found Danny's family.' That hit me. I don't think I said anything for a while. He told me they were going to have a memorial for Danny on Woody Island. When he said 'Are you gonna go?' I said, 'If at all possible, yes, even if I have to hock the kids."

Coon also contacted Lapolla about the event. "He sort of invited me to someone else's party," Lapolla said To make sure it was okay, Lapolla contacted the Tribal Council office and said he'd love to come up. He was pleased to get a quick response from the Council office, warmly welcoming him.

Even though Crawford hadn't met Harmon personally, he was interested when Coon told him about the memorial service on Woody. "I happened to be in Minneapolis and went to lunch with Ron. He said he was considering going to Kodiak. He said he'd like me to be there for him," Crawford said. "Because Ron has done so much for our unit, I agreed to come up here."

Crawford was not disappointed he did. It was an enriching experience for him and his buddies. Getting them together with the Harmon family was a monumental effort, made possible through many people who were helped by the Internet,

As Lapolla said, the Internet was an "explosion." It wasn't just one person initiating contacts, but many people sending out message through e-mail.

Once Cindy Harmon was contacted, other family members got on the Internet, including Dan's sister Leanna Castillo, and niece Lisa Monroe. "I started e-mailing back and forth with Mike [Lapolla] and the rest of the family," Castillo said. "Lisa did the same thing. It was an all-around joint effort. Mike started e-mailing his buddies. I didn't realize all four of those guys were going to be here [for the retreat]. I was so surprised. It's amazing that they made the effort to come. They are so interested in Danny. They helped rebuild the fence around his grave. They helped start a fire for the girls in the cabins and brought us firewood. They all have been wonderful. They fit right in. They were all with us, helping," Castillo said.

Lapolla said it was an honor to be present for the memorial service. "I don't think anybody hesitated when they got invited," Lapolla said. "When you think about it, if a family is going to do that for a family member, then why the hell wouldn't you come up? There's a lot of families that don't care that much."

Next summer the LRRPS plan to have a reunion at Fort Lewis, the Tacoma, WA Army base where many soldiers, including Harmon, deployed to Vietnam. Since the Harmon famiies live relatively close to the area, the men will rendezvous with them for another reunion.

In the meantime Dan Harmon's beloved are sure to keep in touch with each other through the Internet.