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The unlikely tale of a sailor and a son

by Minden Press-Herald

He was a son of the south, a brother to a dozen other siblings. After graduating high school in the late 1920s with the Great Depression taking away the ability to make a living for virtually everybody, he decided to join the Navy knowing at least he’d have a paycheck coming in.

He was assigned to the USS Utah, a battleship built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation that was “laid down” in March 1909, ironically the month and year of the young sailor’s birth. Incidentally, the Utah is one of the ships now lying in a watery grave at Pearl Harbor, sunk by Japanese war planes.

Part of his tour of duty was in Cuba and at one point around the late summer of 1929, the USS Utah pulled into port in New York giving the sailors on board a much-awaited couple of days of shore leave.

This southern sailor, barely out of his teens, had to have felt a freedom like he’d never known back on the farm back home. New York with all the glitz and glamour also provided temptations he’d never encountered before. There he met a young woman and they spent an evening on the town. After a night out with her, it was time to board ship and take to the seas once again.

What the young sailor never knew was that the lady became pregnant and on May 22, 1930, she gave birth to a tiny baby boy and in a possible attempt to make things more acceptable, she named him after two Bible characters; she named him Paul David.

It soon became apparent that Paul’s mother was ill-equipped to take care of a newborn. Complicating her inexperience was the fact she was practically blind, so thankfully, she decided to do what was best for Paul; she placed him in foster care.

However, his life bouncing from one foster home to another was not without complications. “My mother created all kinds of problems for me. Every time I got close to a foster family, she’d pull me away because she didn’t want competition,” Paul said.
He joined the Navy in 1948, served for four years and afterward, attended and graduated in electrical engineering from Clarkson College in New York and while there, met and married JoAnne.

The couple were parents to three children, a daughter and two sons.

He spent the majority of his career with Grumman Aerospace Corporation, retiring after 30 years and moving from New York to Florida in 1990.

What became of Paul’s dad, the young sailor? After his hitch with the Navy was up, he returned home and worked at a variety of jobs. His gift of gab enabled him to do fairly well selling Watkins Products. Sometimes the purchaser didn’t have money to pay so he had attached a wire cage to the front of his car to hold the chicken or two he received in payment. He was also an outdoorsman to the hilt and taught his youngsters how to hunt and fish.

He married in 1935 and in 1937, a baby boy was born. After several years of being a bit of a rough and rowdy young fellow, he was converted to Christianity in 1938 and for the rest of his life, he was a model husband and father to his three children, two sons and a daughter.

Paul always wanted to know about his father and his daughter sought the services of Ancestry.com. After a four-year search, DNA tests eventually pointed to that young sailor.

I’m assuming you’re wondering about the identity of the sailor. His name is Thomas Ernest. His nickname is “Doc”. His last name is Harris. He’s my dad.

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