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THURSDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2006
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Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com

Melvin Harville, left, of Moulton is a Navy veteran of World War II. Condon Harville was in the Army in the Korean War.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Melvin Harville, left, of Moulton is a Navy veteran of World War II. Condon Harville was in the Army in the Korean War.

Brothers fought wars, came back to face tragedies

The six Harville brothers of Lawrence County were close as cotton bolls. They arrived, as if pre-destined, every two years over a decade.

It was only natural that they fought a lot growing up. Later, two of the brothers fought outside the family — but for the family. They went off to war.

Melvin, 80, the oldest son of Clark and Annie Mae Harville, answered the call of his country twice, serving in the Navy during World War II and Korea. Their third son, Condon, 76, was in the Army in Korea.

They lived their share of nightmares, but the worst would come later after their return home. This is their story:

Uncle Sam drafted Melvin in January 1945 out of Hatton High School. At Fort McClellan, the military gave him the option of the Army or the Navy.

He chose to travel the high seas "all over the South Pacific," in New Guinea, the Solomons, Iwo Jima and the Philippines. He was on Leyte, where he operated a telephone and delivered mail for the fleet post office, when World War II ended in 1945.

"They called me back for Korea in 1951 and we went up and down the Atlantic Coast and South America from our home base in Newport, R.I.," he said. "We were stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for three months of training."

Melvin said his ship identified 11 Russian submarines and in January 1952 chased one near the harbor of New Orleans.

"They were trying to put spies on shore," he said. "We stayed on it all night, but we lost it."

Condon ended up joining his brother in service during the Korean War, also in 1951.

"What happened, Melvin had talked me into joining the Navy Reserves in 1947," Condon said. "I moved from Moulton to Tulsa, building tanks for an oil refinery."

Four years later, when his draft board in Moulton contacted him, he came home, told board officials that he was in the Reserves and returned to Tulsa.

When they contacted him again, he told them to transfer his orders to Tulsa. Now, he was in the Army. He went to basic training at Fort Meade, Md., for eight weeks of medic training and eight weeks of infantry training.

He went to Korea with the 3rd Infantry Division and drove a litter jeep, collecting the wounded on the bloody and hilly battlefields, and transporting them to aid stations.

"I was alone," Condon said. "I could take only two per trip. I'd shove them into the back and fasten them down. But if a soldier only had a minor injury, he'd sit up front with me, in the passenger seat. I can recall having only one patient airlifted."

Condon remained on the front lines for a year. When he knew he was coming home, an officer told him he could return to the company and rest.

"I told him that I'd stay with my friends, the ones in combat," he said.

Recollections of war

Condon said he tries to forget most of what he saw in Korea, but one episode is vivid. He can't recall the soldier's name or where he was from, just that he was a friend.

"He got married shortly
before he came over," Condon said.

"He got a letter from his wife wanting a divorce. He'd come to my bunk and cry over it, and I'd do the best I could to comfort him. I kept a little something to drink, and I'd share it with him. One night, a North Korean soldier hollered 'Medic!' My friend raised up and they shot him through the head."

Lawrence, 1960

Fast forward to Lawrence County 1960. Condon owned a grocery store in Loosier. Nathan, the fifth in the line of brothers, operated it. Nathan and his family lived in the back part of the building.

"My house was next door, and I was eating supper," Condon said.

"Nathan and two other guys were in the yard between the store and my house, fooling around with a German Lugar pistol. It discharged, striking Nathan in the chest. One of the boys came in and got me."

There was no litter jeep on standby for Condon like the one he maintained in Korea. And he had no telephone.

"I was going to take him to the hospital in my car, but I didn't know how badly he was hurt," Condon said.

"I drove about three miles to a phone to call for an ambulance. But Nathan didn't make it. He was only 26."

One month later, Nathan's only son, Dennis, 3, got a flu shot in Courtland.

His mother had started the drive home when the youngster passed out.

"She went back and he got more shots," Condon said. "I met them at the hospital, where he died."

Condon, Melvin and the youngest brother, Carmon, 70, live in Lawrence County. Johnny Lester, 78, lives in Joliet, Ill., and Lunford, 74, lives in Skiatook, Okla. Had Nathan lived, he would have been 72.

"Actually, we had a seventh brother," Carmon said. "Our parents had a boy two years after me. He was stillborn. They didn't name him. His tombstone says 'Baby Harville.' "

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Ronnie Thomas Ronnie Thomas
DAILY Staff Writer

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