Veteran talks to slain buddy's daughter: 'I told her ... that he was a real good man'

News-DemocratJanuary 30, 2011 

It was modern technology that helped them get in contact, 60 years after one of them decided to find the other.

It was also modern technology that kept that first phone call from getting through sooner.

Alphonso Harris, 81, of East St. Louis, came back from Korea determined to find the daughter of his friend Pfc. Kenneth Roger Eisenhardt so he could tell her about her father and how he died.

The daughter was a 4-month-old child Eisenhardt had never met, and she was the last thing he worried about before he died of injuries sustained by an exploding land mine.

It took 60 years, but Harris was finally able to tell the daughter of a friend killed in action about her father.

When the News-Democrat first contacted Eisenhardt's daughter, 59-year-old Bea Harrison, 59, she was shocked that a man she didn't know existed had tried to find her to tell her about the father she never knew.

Harris was finally able to share his thoughts about her father with her Jan. 20, four days after the News-Democrat published a story about Harris and his connection with Harrison.

"It overwhelmed me that there was someone around who knew my dad. I was a basket case," said Harrison, who lives in Pennsylvania. "There are a lot of things I don't know about him because I was so young when all this happened. There is a lot I don't know."

Harrison added that during her conversation with Harris, he expressed his amazement that she had been located after so many years.

The two had some problems getting connected because Harris' cell phone was on the fritz when Harrison attempted to call him the first couple of times and he was unable to take her call.

"I told him it was modern technology," she said with a chuckle. "This would have never happened back then. I was just blown away that something I posted on the Korean War Project website came back like this."

Using online public records and a comment about Eisenhardt on the Korean War Project website, the News-Democrat was able to track down the daughter of Harris' war buddy.

A search through the National Archives showed that the soldier Harris only knew as "Eisenhardt" from New Jersey was actually Pfc. Kenneth Roger Eisenhardt, of Salem, N.J., who was killed in action Nov. 25, 1951. Public records and a memorial page to Eisenhardt on the Korean War Project website led to his daughter.

She left this message on the website in May: "I was a little over four months old when my father, Kenneth Roger Eisenhardt, was killed."

When she read the newspaper article relating Harris' story about the death of her father, then later watched the video of Harris talking about it, she felt more than she thought she would.

"I was truly touched by it and I got very emotional," she said. "Then, when I watched the video, I was a basket case again. It's been exciting, but it's been very traumatic as well. But, it's really nice to have someone around who knew him."

When Harris was informed the daughter of his friend had been located and wanted to talk to him, he was thrilled and eager to speak with her.

"It went real well and we talked about what happened," Harris said. "I told her about how he died and that he was a real good man, somebody good to be around. I also told her that everybody in the company liked him. She seemed to be glad to be able to talk to someone who knew her father."

Harris met Eisenhardt when the company was moving toward the Punch Bowl, crossing snow- and ice-covered mountains. The Punch Bowl, now part of the Demilitarized Zone, was the site of some of the war's most vicious battles.

Eisenhardt died from wounds he received from an exploding land mine despite Harris' efforts to save him and staunch the bleeding.

"He kept saying, 'I'm not going to make it home. I'm not going to get the chance to see my daughter,'" Harris said. "I hurt so bad about that that I didn't know what to do. He was a good man with a good sense of humor working a very dangerous job laying that communication cable."

He decided that if he made it home from the war he'd find Eisenhardt's wife and tell his daughter about him.

But he only knew his friend by his last name and the state he came from, making searching for the man's daughter a daunting, if not impossible, task in the late 1950s.

He never found them, something he regretted.

"I feel real good that I got the chance to talk to her because it's something that has just stayed with me and it's something I'm glad I was able to do -- talk to his daughter and know that she is OK," Harris said. "I promised her we'd keep in contact and I'd try to remember some more things about her dad, but, I'm 81 years old and the old memory doesn't always work so well. I'm trying to remember as much as I can about her father, but it comes and it goes. I told her to call me any time she wanted and we could have conversations about it and maybe more of it will come back to me."

Harrison is still reeling from being able to talk to someone who knew her father. She never had close contact with his side of the family after he died, she said.

"It was very exciting to hear how well-liked and respected my father was by the other servicemen and, how much he liked his job in communications," Harrison said.

"I don't know if it would ever happen, but I'd really like to meet (Harris) some day," she said. "I don't know that it would ever happen, but I sure would like it to."

Contact reporter Jennifer A. Bowen at jbowen@bnd.com or 239-2667.

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