Harmon Family Combines Service, Love of LSU
Some people are born to be doctors or lawyers, others are born to be athletes or performers. But the men of the Harmon family were born to serve their country. And for three members of the Harmon family, that service began at LSU.
Military service has been in the Harmon family since the early 1700s, dating back to Jean-Baptiste Prudhomme. A French fusilier, or infantryman, Prudhomme served at Fort St. Denis in Natchitoches and was later settled in the area after receiving a land grant from King Louis XIV. Jean-Baptiste began the family heritage of service that has continued through the Harmon family – 1963 LSU graduate Stephen Harmon Jr.’s mother was a Prudhomme.
From the early 1700s through today, a descendant of the Prudhommes has fought in every major war the United States has been involved in, including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. Stephen Harmon Sr. was a World War II veteran who fought in Okinawa, Japan.
Beginning with Stephen Harmon Jr., three members of the Harmon family have graduated from LSU’s ROTC program and made their careers in the United States Army. In addition, Harmon Jr. has a grandson, Stephen Harmon IV, who is also currently serving on active duty.
Retired Lt. Col. Harmon Jr. spent approximately 40 years in the Army and Army Reserves. After an exceptional career, this Saturday, Nov. 10, he will be inducted into LSU’s military Hall of Honor during the annual LSU Salutes program. LSU Hall of Honor inductees are selected based on their involvement with the university, as well as with the military and community.
Harmon Jr.’s oldest son, Col. Stephen Harmon III, graduated from LSU in 1985 and has served for more than 27 years. He is currently on active duty serving as personnel management officer for the National Capital Region Physical Evaluation Board in Arlington, Va.
“Only 1/2 of 1 percent of the U.S. population serves at any given time,” said Harmon III. “Having an understanding of the selfless service and sacrifice it takes to serve in the Army to keep our nation free” is one of the bonds he shares with his father, brother and son
Harmon Jr.’s youngest son, Lt. Joshua Harmon, graduated from LSU in 2010 and has now been on active duty for more than two years. Joshua is on active duty as the battalion S4 (logistics) and budget officer for the 303rd Explosive Ordnance Disposal Battalion out of Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
“Just the fact that even though we span generations, we can talk about things and be all on the same page, whether it be military-related or LSU-related, because we have all had similar great experiences,” said Joshua about his relationship with his father and older brother. “In a way, it is kind of an unspoken bond too.”
In addition, Harmon III’s son, Harmon IV – who grew up in Baton Rouge but did not attend LSU – is an infantryman on active duty in the U.S. Army and is stationed at Fort Jackson in South Carolina. He has now seen more than 40 months in combat in his career.
“I have a red, white and blue service banner, the one for family members of service members to display indicating the number of relatives they have serving, that is hanging at my house, and I am so proud to have a three-star banner,” said Harmon Jr. “It warms my heart that my sons and grandsons have combined for 44 years of service. What else can a father say? They are great people who are highly patriotic, and they amaze me. They would not hesitate to go wherever their service is needed.”
When Joshua was commissioned in May 2010, the Harmon family could actually boast three generations and four family members all serving on active duty at the same time, as Harmon Jr. had returned to active duty temporarily.
“Serving on active duty at the same time as my father; son, Stephen Harmon IV; and brother, Josh, is one of my greatest achievements while in the service,” said Harmon III.
After growing up in Natchitoches, Harmon Jr. moved to Baton Rouge and graduated from Catholic High School, where he was the editor of the school newspaper, Bear Facts. He went on to enroll at LSU in 1958.
“There was no other school anyone wanted to attend,” said Harmon Jr.
A member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, Harmon Jr. worked very hard his first two years at LSU. His life revolved around school, the military, his fraternity and his job. While ROTC was mandatory for all male students at LSU, it wasn’t until Harmon Jr.’s junior year that he decided to continue through the ROTC program and be commissioned.
“The Vietnam War changed my mind about remaining in the ROTC program,” said Harmon Jr. “After having no intention of being an officer, I decided during my junior year at LSU that if I had to go to Vietnam, I would prefer to go as an officer than as a private.”
At the time of his graduation from LSU with a bachelor’s degree in history in January 1963, Harmon Jr. was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army. His first post was with the 8th Special Forces Group in the Canal Zone in Panama. He spent three more years on active duty before joining the U.S. Army Reserves. He was stationed throughout the South with stints in Louisiana, Alabama, Tennessee and North Carolina. He also worked for a time at the Pentagon in public affairs before retiring, for the first time, from the U.S. Army Reserves in 1991.
In July 2009, at the age of 68, Harmon Jr. voluntarily rejoined the active duty ranks through the Army Retiree Recall Program. He was assigned to Casualty and Mortuary Affairs in Alexandria, Va., working with families who had lost loved ones in military service. During his 15-month service, Harmon Jr. worked in the same command as Harmon III, who was serving as acting chief of military awards, which is also in the Army Human Resources Command.
In 2010, Harmon Jr. was awarded the Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal for duty with the Army’s Human Resources Command.
“There was a lot of emotion for me when I went on active duty again,” said Harmon Jr. “I was able to spend 15 months working in the same command as my son, Steve. To see the pride and total dedication that these soldiers had for serving our country was very emotional and gave me an even greater appreciation for the service of these men and women.”
During his career, Harmon Jr. has also worked for the LSU Foundation, working as senior major gifts officer and director of corporate relations, helping to obtain funding for the future of the university. For his outstanding military service and his continued support of LSU, he will join the members of LSU’s military Hall of Honor.
“So many people could have been selected for this award, and it is something that is very special to me,” said Harmon Jr. “I am highly honored to have been considered. I was a member of the board of the Cadets of the Ole War Skule and am still involved with that wonderful organization because it is very important to continue to honor LSU’s military veterans.”
Both of Harmon Jr.’s sons are exceptionally proud of his induction. It was Harmon III who nominated his father and will be present, along with Harmon IV, at the induction ceremony on Saturday.
“I am very proud, as he joins a distinguished group of honorees that have served both in the Army and served the community,” said Harmon III.
Unfortunately, Joshua is currently on a mandatory training exercise in South Korea that will not conclude until Sunday.
“I am exuding pride and joy!” said Joshua. “I am extremely disappointed that I cannot attend the ceremony, but he definitely deserves it for all of his military accomplishments as well as civilian accomplishments as an LSU employee. I am very honored to be his son.”
With such an outstanding relationship with LSU, both as a student and an employee, and with a exceptional military record, it was no surprise that two of Harmon Jr.’s sons followed in their father’s footsteps, going on to call LSU their alma mater and serving on active duty in the U.S. Army.
“I encouraged my sons to try the Army, and I knew there was the possibility of a scholarship for their service that could pay for their education. I had a wonderful time at LSU and have great memories of my professors, especially my history professors who took an active interest in assisting me through college. I received a quality education and loved being in Baton Rouge.”
Although living in Tennessee during high school, Harmon III wanted to attend LSU. After applying for scholarships from the Army, Air Force and Navy, he accepted a scholarship from the Army and enrolled in LSU’s ROTC program.
“Many of my family members had attended and/or graduated from LSU,” said Harmon III on his decision to attend LSU. “I also had a four-year Army ROTC scholarship, and we have a family history of serving in the Army. My father was a great influence on creating my desire to serve my country.”
Harmon III graduated from LSU in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in political science and was commissioned by Harmon Jr. through the ROTC program that July.
“LSU is a great university that provides an excellent education in a beautiful setting,” said Harmon III, “and choosing to serve your nation in the military is a positive life changing experience that allows you to see life and problems through a different set of eyes that most people aren’t able to.”
Harmon III served on active duty in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq from 1990-91 during Operation Desert Shield/Storm as a transportation platoon leader. Following assignments in Tennessee and Alabama, Harmon III returned to the Middle East, and was stationed in Saudi Arabia and served in Iraq. It was during this time in 2003-04 that father and son were able to serve in the same theater, as Harmon IV was stationed in Iraq at the same time.
After returning stateside, Harmon III was again stationed in Alabama before returning to Kuwait for a year beginning in October 2006. When he returned to the states in October 2007, he also returned to Alabama. He then moved to Virginia and has been stationed there since February 2008.
During his years of service, Harmon III has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the fourth highest fourth-highest award for bravery, heroism or meritorious service, with three oak leaf clusters denoting subsequent decorations; the Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters; the Army Commendation Medal with four oak leaf clusters; the Army Achievement Medal; the Reserve Component Achievement Medal; and the National Defense Service Medal, among others.
After graduating as valedictorian of Middle College High School in Chattanooga, Tenn., Joshua attended LSU on an Army scholarship. It was a March trip to Baton Rouge and LSU’s campus that convinced Joshua that LSU and the university’s ROTC program was the right choice.
“My father and his side of the family was from Baton Rouge, and I lived in and visited Baton Rouge frequently while growing up. Both my father and brother graduated from LSU, and my dad worked there after his military service,” said Joshua on his decision to attend LSU. “I liked the College of Business and knew it was ranked fairly high academically, and I also loved the campus and the atmosphere.”
An outstanding student, Joshua went on to graduate magna cum laude from LSU’s E. J. Ourso College of Business with a bachelor’s degree in business management. He was also honored for academic excellence in general management by the Rucks Department of Management.
“My four years at LSU were definitely the most rewarding and favorite of my 25 years of existence,” said Joshua. “At LSU, I learned to get along with and befriend diverse people from different backgrounds and cultures, and learned about those cultures. I learned how to juggle academics, ROTC and a part-time job. I learned how to adapt, be flexible, and how to be a smart and respected leader in leadership positions. And obviously, I learned a lot from my degree program in the College of Business.”
Though they attended LSU decades apart, Harmon Jr., Harmon III and Joshua all said that Tiger Stadium on a Saturday night was one of their favorite places on campus, proving how some things never change.
“I remember LSU football games were some of my most fun times at school,” said Harmon Jr. “I remember when the freshmen had to wear pajamas to the first game.”
The tradition of freshmen wearing pajamas to the first home game of the season is one that had died out long ago, but was resurrected several years ago and has again become a tradition.
“I couldn't narrow it down to one place EXCEPT for Tiger Stadium/Death Valley on a Saturday Night,” Joshua said of his favorite place on campus. “Nothing beats that. Nothing at LSU or any other place in any other part of the world I've been to. I still get chills at every game.”
With the successful careers of the three Harmon men from LSU, Harmon Jr. credits the leadership at the university and their support of the military.
“Having worked for Chancellors Emmert and Jenkins, I know that they had and still have a tremendous commitment to the ROTC program and the military tradition at LSU,” said Harmon Jr. “They have passed that commitment down to their successors and the leadership at LSU has continued to strongly support the military.”
Harmon Jr. also believes that it is that commitment to the military and ROTC program by LSU’s leadership that has helped the university produce such outstanding officers throughout the school’s history.
“LSU cadets exceed expectations in the service,” said Harmon Jr. “They have tremendous careers and the Army recognizes the quality of leadership training the future officers receive at LSU. LSU is among the best ROTC programs in the United States, and I can’t say enough about the dedication these officers have for their country.”