Flags at half-staff to honor deceased WWII veteran after remains were returned home

Army Air Forces 1st Lt. Roy Coulson Harms to be buried in Grafton Saturday

First Lt. Roy C. Harms with a WWII bomber plane and his crew.
First Lt. Roy C. Harms, second from left first row, with a WWII bomber plane and some of his crew. Photo courtesy of the Ozaukee County Historical Society

Nearly 80 years after the B-24 Bomber he piloted during World War II was shot down, the body of 1st Lt. Roy Coulson Harms is coming home.

Harms, a Grafton native, was 26-years-old when the bomber he was flying as part of Operation TIDAL WAVE — a mission targeting Axis power oil refineries — was hit by enemy aircraft fire over Romania. He died along with eight crew members. But his remains were not identified, and he was buried first as an unknown soldier near the site of the crash, then later interred at Ardennes American Cemetery in Belgium.

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On Saturday, Harms will be buried with full military honors in Grafton.

Allen Buchholz is the vice president of the Ozaukee County Historical Society. He said regardless of when a soldier dies, it’s the community’s duty to honor them and their family.

“Had his body come home a week or two after he was killed, the little village of Grafton back in 1943 would have shut down. They would have closed stores and schools and they would have come out when the train arrived and stood in respect,” Buchholz said. “And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish tomorrow.”

Buchholz said 46 of Harms’ direct decedents were planning on attending the funeral on Saturday, with people traveling from as far as California and Arizona.

The burial committee, of which Buchholz is a member, has asked current and past service members, veterans groups, Lions Club members, scouts and more to line the driveway of the funeral home as the procession with Harms’ remains arrives. They also have a proclamation from the Village of Grafton declaring Saturday “Lt. Roy Harms Day” across the state.

Buchholz shared a story about Harms’ journey to Romania, adding that members of the Grafton community still talk about it today. According to Buchholz, when Harms left Nebraska on his way to the war, his flight path took him on a straight line to Bangor, Maine. That included flying near Grafton.

“He must have let them know either by phone or telegram that he was coming over, because he flew that bomber right over the Village of Grafton. And those that were there that day said it rattled windows,” Buchholz said.

He said before leaving Nebraska, Harms’ crew signed a piece of paper, wrapped it around a 50-caliber bullet and attached it to a kite-tail.

“As they flew over his house in Grafton, one of the crew members threw it out the window and they went and retrieved it,” Buchholz said. “The family still has that bullet and that note and that kite-tail today. And that was his final goodbye.”

Gov. Tony Evers has ordered flags in the state to be flown at half staff in Harms’ honor.

“We are glad to be able to welcome First Lieutenant Roy Coulson Harms home and that he can finally be laid to rest in his home state,” Evers in a statement. “First Lieutenant Harms gave his life fighting for the values and freedoms we hold dear, and the state will forever remember his courageous service and sacrifice.”

Harms was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal and a Purple Heart.