It has been more than 70 years since Horace Harned was a young lieutenant serving in a mapping squadron assigned to the famed Flying Tigers of the U. S. Army Air Force’s 14th Wing in China.
His recollections as a member of the ground crews mapping thousands of square miles in southern China bring tears to his eyes. Sometimes they are tears of laughter, sometimes tears of emotion, from memories of experiences that were arduous at best, life-threatening at worse.
These memories were rekindled for Harned when he and his wife joined more than 600 former Flying Tigers and their families for a reunion in Taipei, Taiwan, in observance of the 40th anniversary at the ending of World War II. The 14thAir Force Association was invited to hold the reunion in Taiwan by the Chinese Air Force and other veterans’ and governmental groups.
The 14th Air Force Wing was activated under the command of General Claire Chennault after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Joining with the Chinese, commanded by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-sheik, the wing soon earned the title of the Flying Tigers and became a strong force in the eventual defeat of the Japanese.
When Harned completed his degree in geology at Mississippi State College in 1942, he joined the Army Air Force. His eyesight prevented him from entering pilot training, and he was sent to Denver for a three-month course preparing him to be a photographic lab commander. Commissioned a second lieutent on No. 7, 1942, he was assigned to the USAF First Mapping Group whose goal was to improve aerial maps for the Air Force.
Prior to duty in China, and after additional training in Washington, D. C. Harned helped map the West coast of Mexico, a two-month assignment. In November of 1943, he was assigned to the 3rd Mapping Squadron that was attached to the Flying Tigers in China. His trip took six weeks because the Japanese had most of the Pacific Ocean closed to American ships and aircraft and his route took him by way of Brazil, Africa and India.
Harned spent 12 months in China as commander of ground “geodet” parties responsible for setting up stations at 50-mile intervals in an area the size of the southeastern quarter of the United States. Using an equlangulator to observe the stars, the crew determined the latitude and longitude of the station, which could be a shed, rock, formation, bridge or anything that could be identified on aerial photographs. This information was combined with the aerial photographs of the area to develop aeronautical charts for pilots. Most of the territory mapped by the ground units of the photographic wing lay in remote areas of China often inhabited by unfriendly bandits or curious tribesmen who had never before seen a white man.
The ground party carried everything it needed on its forays, usually camping in tents but sometimes finding shelter with missionaries. Harned, an avid hunter and fisherman since childhood, supplemented their G. I. Rations with fish and game from the rivers and forests in which they traveled.
Although every day held an element of danger by virtue of the primitive conditions, Harned had a couple of especially harrowing experiences. One such occasion was when a band of about a dozen ragged men armed with rifles challenged his party, which included himself, a sergeant and an interpreter from the Chinese Nationalist Army. The nervous interpreter informed Harned that the men wanted money. “We all reached in our pockets and collected Chinese money which was equal to about $6 U. S. dollars, gave it to the bandits and quickly left without daring to look back,” Harned remembered. He found out months later that the men were deserters from the Chinese army and probably communists. “Then I knew why the interpreter was so nervous.”
Harned kept a daily journal of his activities and took photographs that were destroyed in a fire at his home in 1963. Fortunately, several years ago the widow of his sergeant gave him her husband’s album that contained many of Harned’s photographs. The pictures range from breathtaking views of mountains and waterfalls to those revealing the harsh conditions of the countryside. One picture shows the crew’s jeep atop a huge rockslide that blocked the narrow dirt road. Another captured the puzzled expressions on the faces of mountain tribesmen as they marveled at the strangers with the four-wheeled vehicles and mysterious equipment. Another is of laughing men riding horses and donkeys over terrain impassible by jeep.
One of life’s strange coincidences occurred when Harned chanced upon a cousin of his grandfather, Arthur Rice. The cousin, who had visited in Starkville when Harned was a child, was a missionary who had been evacuated from behind Japanese lines but who was trying to return to his mission. “I never found out what happened to him,” Harned said.
The China project completed, Harned left China in December 1944, arriving in Starkville in time to celebrate Christmas with his family.
He was next assigned to mapping duty in South America, in countries then known as British, Dutch and French Guiana (only French Guiana retains its name today). Shortly after arriving in South American, the Air Force personnel were invited to the French Guiana governor’s mansion to celebrate V. E. Day, when Germany surrendered to the Allies. It would be August before the surrender of the Japanese ended World War II.
During the nine months in South American, Harned’s unit set up stations in areas where the only previous outsiders had been missionaries.
“There were no roads and we had to travel by air or water.” Harned said, describing a 1928 bi-plane they rented for $50 an hour. “It was pretty-hair-raising as we skimmed along the treetops about 90 miles an hour trying to find some water to land on,” he said with a smile.
Finishing the Guiana work in February 1946, Harned once again headed for home. Suffering from severe stomach ulcers he spent two months in an Army hospital in Denver before being discharged from the Air Force and returning to Starkville.
His military duty influenced Harned to change his mind about his life’s vocation. His interest in geology began when he was a youngster looking for fossils and Indian relics around his father’s farm. I decided to major in geology in college because of this interest and because I thought it would allow men to travel a lot. Well, I had enough of travel during the war, so when I came home I decided to help my aunt with her farm,” Harned said. His aunt, Nannie Rice was librarian at Mississippi State and one of the girl’s dormitories on campus is named for her.
In 1949, Harned married Nellie Jean Howell. They built their house in 1951, the same year Harned ran for and won a seat in the Mississippi Senate representing Oktibbeha and Choctaw counties. In those days, a senator could not succeed himself because the Senate seat was alternated between the counties. After “resting a term,” Harned ran for the House of Representatives where legislators could succeed themselves, thus building seniority. He served 20 years in the House and because of frequent redistricting, represented a different constituency each term.
Among the legislative accomplishments he is most proud of is being the primary author of Mississippi’s Right to Work law. While in the Senate. Harned’s service in the state legislature continued a family tradition. He was the fourth generation of the family to serve as state legislator, preceded by his great grandfather, Capt. John W. Rice, his grandfather, Arthur Rice, and his uncle, Joe Rice, who had also been mayor of Starkville
Harned was always a strong supporter of Mississippi State and served as chairman of the university and colleges committee for 12 years. His father, Horace Harned, Sr., was a professor of bacteriology at State and Harned and his two brothers and two sisters grew up in a house on the campus. His father owned extensive land bordering the campus and had the largest dairy herd in the town, “one of the best Jersey herds in the state,” Harned claimed with pride.
Harned played football and ran track at Starkville High. At MSU he took the two-year basic ROTC course and ran track o the cross-country team.
The Harned are the parents of three daughters and a son. Since leaving the legislature, he has devoted his time to farming. Perhaps due to his travels abroad during the war, he still has a deep interest in internal affairs. He is grateful for the opportunities he had to meet people from other cultures during the war. “We lived close to the people and learned to know and understand them,” he said.
Horace Harned, Jr. still attends his Starkville High School Class Reunion hosted by John Robert Arnold and represents with pride the class of 1938.