Gene Harper was born in Ontario, Calif., on April 7, 1923. He is the only child of Lester Maurice Harper and Mary Winifred Litts Harper. He grew up in the city of Ontario and graduated from Chaffey High School before enrolling in Chaffey Junior College just months before the attack on Pearl Harbor. On Dec. 7, 1941, he enlisted in the Navy Reserve and received orders in June 1943. He attended V-7 training at Redlands University in California and Columbia University Midshipman’s School in New York. He graduated as an Ensign in August 1944.
Harper became a lieutenant junior grade during his service and served aboard tank landing ship (LST) 952 during World War II. He was 21 years old when it were put out to sea. On April 1, 1945, his LST was responsible for sending Marines onto Okinawa, where they took Yontan Airfield. On July 21, just 82 days after the battle began, Okinawa was secured.
One of the important lessons Harper learned during his time in the Navy was to always stay alert. In his memoir, “The Call to Duty and the LST 952,” he recounts that he spent many nights during general quarters out in a small boat making smoke with a smoke generator. The first night that he went out on the coxswain to make smoke to hide their ships at anchor at Okinawa, they were on the water for over an hour until the all clear sound was given. Harper then realized they no longer had any idea where their ship was because the smoke was too heavy. They ended up sitting out on the water for another hour until the smoke lifted enough to find their ship. This experience taught him to always keep his mental compass actively engaged.
After the war, Harper completed a bachelor’s degree at Colorado A&M. He returned to his hometown and worked for the County of San Bernardino as an entomologist and later as the Assistant Commissioner of Agriculture. He married Ndala Grace Hall, a local elementary school teacher, on July 10, 1955. They have three daughters, six grandchildren and nine great-grandsons. They have been happily married for 67 years and are longtime residents of Ontario.
Harper celebrated his 100th birthday on April 7, 2023, with his wife, Ndala, their three daughters; Jacqueline Tobias, Kimberly Humphrey, and Candace Wheeler; and their family and friends.
We honor his service.