Symbol of valor is back with family
CORONADO, Calif. -- On a morning that shared the sunshine but none of the violence of that long ago Dec. 7, family members of Jackson Charles Pharris were reunited Tuesday with the Medal of Honor he received for bravery at Pearl Harbor.
Pharris died in Los Angeles in 1966, at 54. His wife and daughter died several years ago. The Medal of Honor and a Navy Cross he had received sat untouched in a safe-deposit box.
But Tuesday at the Naval Amphibious Base here, the medals were returned to the family in a ceremony attended by a dozen Pearl Harbor survivors and many active-duty sailors.
The medals' return is part of an effort by state Controller John Chiang to give back to rightful owners the mountain of unclaimed cash and valuables that, by law, annually is put in the care of his office.
A new law will speed the return by adding employees and clearing away bureaucratic roadblocks.
"These tokens of a nation's gratitude are not the state's property. They are part of the Pharris family's heritage -- and to that family they belong," Chiang said.
Pharris was a gunner on the battleship California when the Japanese attacked. Although injured, he fought through flames and oily water below decks to rescue other hurt shipmates and to ensure that ammunition was brought on deck so sailors could fire back at their new enemy.
Vice Adm. Terry Etnye, who helped present the medals to the Pharris family, said Navy records show Pharris' bravery saved the lives of innumerable sailors.
"He was a model of honor, courage and commitment," said Etnye, commander of Naval Surface Forces.
Pharris' oldest son, Jack, 63, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel who is now a real estate salesman in Torrance, said his father rarely talked of the recognition.
"He was slightly self-conscious about it," Pharris said. "He always said, 'There were a lot of guys doing things that day. I just got singled out somehow.' "
Doyle McKee, 86, who was at the naval base at Kanehoe Bay in Oahu when it too was attacked on Dec. 7, 1941, said Pharris' modesty is not unusual. "Most of the heroes are like that," he said. "They just say they were part of the event, not the event itself."
The controller plans to send individual notices to the estimated 650,000 people a year who have unclaimed property. Individuals can see if they are on the list at the controller's website, www.sco.ca.gov.