A respected Adelaide Korean War veteran who admits fabricating much of his military record – including being wounded at the famous Battle of Maryang San – says he won’t hand back his Order of Australia Medal.
Gerald Francis Harrison has told InDaily he has resigned from the RSL and will relinquish his life membership of the distinguished Third Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR), “but I do not intend to surrender my OAM under any circumstances”, as it “had nothing to do with my war service”.
Harrison, who turns 82 next week, was granted the honour on Australia Day, 2004, “for service to the welfare of veterans and their families, and to the community as a participant in programs developed to educate children about military history”.
However, he was recently exposed as having lied about substantial elements of his own military history on the website ‘Australian & New Zealand Military Imposters’ (ANZMI), an investigative site run furtively by former veterans.
Harrison, whose name was previously Edward Ernest John Carr, has acknowledged his long-standing claims to have served “on the front line” in Korea from 1951 until 1953 are fiction. In August last year, a letter from Veterans’ Advisory Council chair Sir Eric Neal to Premier Jay Weatherill highlighted then-council member Harrison’s service at the October 1951 Battle of Maryang San, at which Australian soldiers captured Hill 317 from the communist troops under heavy gunfire.
However, Harrison now concedes that “I did not serve in Maryang San”, although “I definitely served in Korea from 1952 to June 1953”.
“That part is correct,” he insisted.
He said he did not set out to lie about his service, but that “it was a story that got embellished along the way”.
“I’m afraid I got quite carried away,” he told InDaily.
Asked if he regretted the deception, he said: “Of course I do – wouldn’t you?”
However, Harrison’s version of his history is faithfully recorded in the State Library, which contains an in-depth interview with him about his service, in which he disclosed that he forged his father’s signature to enlist as a 17-year old.
Asked by the interviewer what his parents’ names were, he replied: “I prefer not to say.”
(It’s understood he attended Rostrevor College, but is not to be confused with another high-profile alumnus, the former Norwood player and SANFL commentator Gerry Harrison, who was vice-captain of Rostrevor’s First 18 in 1957.)
He had this to say on Maryang San and his “injury”:
“This is in October, 1951 … the rivers were completely frozen — you could walk across the Imjun River in places. The ice would be probably four feet thick in some places. It was terribly, terribly cold. Maryang San was very hilly, a hell of a lot of ravines. We had to attack a feature where we got lost due to very foggy conditions, and A Company had to take a special feature — which they did. B Company, of which I was a member, we got lost, our platoon got lost, so instead of taking the position front-on we took it from the rear slopes and surprised the hell out of the Chinese and the North Koreans … we were virtually in their lines before they knew we were there. But even though we did get lost we still did what we had to do. I was wounded in that action, I was shot … in the leg, yes, yes … and I was sent back to Japan and they reefed out the bullet out of my leg, sewed it up, I had a bit of recuperation and came back to Korea … Can hardly see where it went in now.”
Sir Eric Neal said he had no comment on Harrison’s confession, as it was “a personal matter for him and for the various organisations he’s involved with”. Harrison is no longer a member of the Veterans’ Advisory Council.
He was awarded life membership of 3RAR in 2011. 3RAR president Bob Whelan told InDaily that would now be cancelled.
“We’re a little bit shocked about it all,” he said.
But other veterans have rallied around their comrade; former Veterans SA director Bill Denny, a member of the Order of Australia and recipient of the Bravery Medal, said “Gerry’s a very, very good man” who retained “a great deal of sympathy”.
“The worst that can be said is he embellished his service record, as distinct from making it up,” he said.
“He did serve in Korea; he did serve as an infantryman.”
Denny instead lashed ANZMI, saying in his opinion they were “scumbags” who “hide behind anonymity and destroy people’s careers”.
“An old bloke like Gerry who’s worked his arse off for the community – and maybe told a few porky pies – I think you’d find a lot of people would think you’re shooting a wounded animal,” he said.
“I understand he’s said he was at certain battles he wasn’t at … there’s no doubt Gerry’s done something wrong. It’s an offence and we’re disappointed, but it’s not a hanging offence.”
But ANZMI investigator Bill Hobson was happy to identify himself when InDaily contacted him via the website.
“He’s not being hung,” he responded.
“We believe that what he’s done is serious … what he’s said is lodged in the South Australian State Library, and it’s mostly lies. He was never wounded; he never did these brave things he said he’s done … That’s put into the history books and it’s there for 1000 years.”
Hobson said he and his fellow whistleblowers were “all ex-service veterans with many years of service, who have all served in operational areas”.
“There are always people who disagree to some extent with what we do (but) that’s like blaming the police for a bloke going to jail,” he said.
“Attacking us is a very common thing to do, rather than attack the issue.”
He insisted Harrison should hand back his OAM, saying it was “bizarre” that he could be rewarded for “educating children about military history”.
“I’d say to have that prestigious award you’ve got to be a fit and proper person, and we don’t believe irrespective of the reason for getting the medal that a person who is a proven liar should be able to retain the medal,” Hobson said.
But Harrison refutes this, arguing the medal was “awarded purely and simply because of the work I did on behalf of veterans”.
“There are a lot of people doing work for the veterans who have never been overseas, never been in service,” he said.
Former SAS commando and now Veterans’ Affairs Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said it was “disappointing that the poor judgment of one veteran has taken the focus away from the Centenary of Anzac, a time when the nation should be reflecting on the sacrifices of our servicemen and women”.
We value local independent journalism. We hope you do too.
InDaily provides valuable, local independent journalism in South Australia. As a news organisation it offers an alternative to The Advertiser, a different voice and a closer look at what is happening in our city and state for free. Any contribution to help fund our work is appreciated. Please click below to become an InDaily supporter.