Obituary: James 'Harper' Jordan / Among the first wave at Omaha Beach
Oct. 22, 1921 — Dec. 26, 2016
December 29, 2016 12:17 AM
In this file photo from 1994, James "Harper" Jordan holds two of the medals -- a Silver Star and a Purple Heart -- he earned fighting on Omaha Beach on D-Day.
By Bill Schackner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Few would have faulted James “Harper” Jordan had he been afraid in the run-up to June 6, 1944.
An Army private at the time, he was part of the "First Wave" at Omaha Beach in Normandy during what became known as D-Day. As such, the Fayette County native raised on a farm who died Monday at age 95 was on the leading edge of the largest amphibious invasion in history -- one that dealt a devastating blow to the German war machine during World War II.
James "Harper" Jordan
Mr. Jordan, who later settled in Greenfield, was wounded by an exploding shell that day after he and other troops crossed an open beach with gunfire whizzing past them and were climbing an embankment to take out a German machine gun emplacement.
The military awarded him the Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, his family said. After the war, like many soldiers of his generation, Mr. Jordan returned home -- in his case to start a family with his wife of 62 years, Nell, who died in 2008.
His passing at the VA Hospital in Aspinwall has furthered reduced an already diminishing personal connection to a pivotal moment in world history.
Mr. Jordan recalled during an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1994 that he did not know any better and thus was not really apprehensive as he waited at a rural Army outpost 16 miles outside of Weymouth in southern England prior to the assault on the beach.
"I wanted to go home, but I knew I had to get there first. I wanted to get on with it," he said.
Mr. Jordan was among nearly 160,000 Allied troops who descended on a 50-mile-long and heavily fortified part of the French coastline, according to the Defense Department. More than 9,000 of them were killed or wounded in the fighting, which provided a foundation for the liberation of Europe.
A native of Smock, Mr. Jordan grew up as an eighth-generation farmer and graduated from Dunbar High School, his family said.
After the war, he worked for 32 years as a stationary engineer at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum in Oakland. Making a living by keeping things right with the building's heating and other mechanics was a logical fit, said one of his two sons, Jackson, 70, who lives in O’Hara.
"One of the things I remember most about him was how he liked to fix things. He liked doing that for his family, his friends, his neighbors," his son said. "People would bring him things that were broken -- machines, tools. He just had a knack for fixing that stuff."
He also enjoyed carpentry.
Mr. Jordan was a member of the Shriners. He was also past master of Masonic Lodge 484, his family said.
His son recalled how little his dad was willing to discuss — for most of his life, at least — what he witnessed that day on the beach more than seven decades ago. The landing craft he was on was hit with an artillery shell, killing several soldiers, even before reaching the beach.
"I'm in awe of that whole generation of people, all of those people who went off to World War II," said his son. "I'm fascinated by all of them."
Surviving, in addition to his son Jackson, is another son, Terry of Seattle, as well as four grandchildren
Visitation is from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Edward P. Kanai Funeral Home, 500 Greenfield Ave., where the funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.
Bill Schackner: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1977 and on Twitter: @BschacknerPG.
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