Major General Ernest N. Harmon: The “Cross” Disciplinarian
“Many of his fine qualities may be seen by reverting to the years he spent at Norwich as Commandant of Cadets. At the time, he held the rank of captain and had been in the Army only 10 years. However, those who remember the days when he was Commandant will boast of his fairness. Although he was quite strict, every decision he made was a fair one. Then, as now, every decision he made and everything he did were for the benefit of Norwich.”
–Ed Mannix ’53, published in the Magnum, Vol. I, Dec. 1951
A true Renaissance man, Major General Ernest N. Harmon, NU 1916 wore many hats during his lifetime, among them: student, athlete, instructor, coach, marksman, horseman, cavalry officer, Olympian, commandant, Army General, and college president. A war hero with two silver stars to prove it, he was also a devoted husband and father. But what many remember “Old Gravel Voice” for was his absolute insistence on adherence to standards, resulting in a no-excuses demand for excellence from those under his command. Norwich men from Harmon’s years as commandant, and later, as president, both feared and respected him, and for good reason: As a disciplinarian, Harmon was never one to mince words. The following story, told by Dr. Robert W. Christie ’44—a veteran of World War II who returned to Norwich after the war to complete his graduation requirements—illustrates the kind of leader Ernie Harmon was. – D.L.W.
I first met General Harmon when he arrived in his own special train (formerly owned by Hermann Goering) to inspect my Constabulary troop. General Harmon had assumed command as the commanding general of the U.S. Constabulary, the occupation force set up to maintain peace and order after the war ended in Germany. My division, 3rd Armored, was transformed into the Constabulary, and our task was to develop what was essentially a state police force from an organization designed to destroy the enemy.
I was the CO of the troop, and all went well until General Harmon discovered a buck sergeant sweeping off the steps to our mess hall while a few buck privates were standing idle. Harmon started chewing out the privates, the sergeant (whom he broke on the spot), the cook, the mess officer, and ultimately, of course, me for running a sloppy outfit.
Naturally, I was chagrined and crestfallen to have been brought low by such an event, having lived through five months of frontline combat, starting with The Bulge, and had been decorated as well. But I assure you, discipline got a lot tighter in my troop thereafter.
The next time I met General Harmon was in 1947 in the Norwich Armory on the day I graduated. He was on the stage, handing out diplomas to the graduating class. When my turn came, he saw the Constabulary patch on one shoulder of my blouse and the 3rd Armored Division on the other. He looked at me with gimlet eyes and said, “Christie,” paused, and then said, “I remember you, you son-of-a-bitch!” Then he grinned and said, “I like to see an old tanker. Get married, and be productive!” I saluted, grinned back, and marched off the stage with my diploma in hand.
– Dr. Robert W. Christie ’44
Robert Christie, M.D., served as a tank platoon leader and company commander with the Third Armored Division in the European Theater of Operations during WWII. He is the author of Fate’s Finger, a fictionalized account of his wartime experience from the Battle of the Bulge to German surrender.
More Harmon Stories