Robert “Sam” S. Harris
Born and raised in Thomaston, Ga., Sam Harris attended the University of Georgia, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry, and conducted post-graduate study in human communication at SIU during his military service. After serving two years in the Air Force ROTC program, he declined the commissioning program, hoping to go to medical school after finishing college in three years and expecting the Vietnam War to end shortly. After receiving his draft notice and not his medical school acceptance, Sam joined the Georgia Air National Guard as an enlisted telephone cable splicer, hoping to go to graduate school and still get into medical school. After a year of indecision, he decided to pass on medical school and move on to Plan “B” or Plan “F” – Flying. He was accepted into and completed Officer Training School and undergraduate pilot training, where he was trained to fly the C-141 cargo transport.
Since the government knew he was from the South and wanted to keep him close to home, he was stationed at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Wash. From there, he flew around the world doing airlift missions in support of worldwide military actions, some that could and some that could not be publicized.
Sam was fortunate enough to participate in the last phase of the mission that returned some of the U.S. prisoners of war from the “Hanoi Hilton” in 1973. Also, in 1973, he participated in “Operation Nickle Grass,” also known as the Yom Kippur War, flying supplies non-stop from Lajes Field in Portugal to Tel Aviv’s Lod Airport in support of Israeli Defense Forces as they fought against a coalition of Arab countries led by Egypt and Syria.
In April 1975 he helped to quietly evacuate Saigon, when AFN Radio was playing “Christmas Carols in April.” The helicopters were at the U.S. Embassy in Saigon, but the C-141s were flying in and out of Ton Son Nhut Air Base, evacuating 400 to 500 former U.S. employees and families at a time out to Clark Air Base in the Philippines.
While at McChord, Sam continued as a pilot, became an instructor pilot and served as a computer scheduler and maintenance functional check pilot. He ultimately became a “command pilot” with over 2,500 hours in the C-141.
Sam participated in and assisted in organizing and executing numerous airshows. During one season, his crew supported the U.S. Air Force’s Thunderbird aerial demonstration team during their European tour. They flew their support team to two shows, conducting an arrival show as part of the demonstration.
After separating from the Air Force in 1979, Sam was hired by National Airlines, which was later bought by Pan American Airlines and then Delta Air Lines. While at Pan American, Sam was based in Berlin as part of the Internal German Service, supplying West Berlin with air service to the rest of the world via three corridors over East Germany.
Due to his work in the military in human communication training, he was part of a new program that became known as “Crew Resource Management Training,” which was ultimately mandated by the FAA to facilitate better working relationships in the cockpit during flight and under high-stress conditions.
Now retired, Sam is married to his wife, Judi, and living the good life in Punta Gorda.