Biography: Henry “Hank” Harkema was born on August 7, 1911, in Sibley, Iowa. He was the son of John Harkema and Greitze Bus and attended local schools through the grammar grades. Hank worked as a farmer, grocery clerk and trapper to help support the family. In 1936, he moved with the family to Clearwater (now Paramount), California.
Service Time: Hank entered the service on March 12, 1941, at Los Angeles, CA. He was chosen for Officer Training and graduated as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was assigned to C Company of the 612th Tank Destroyer Battalion, which shipped out from the New York port on April 7, 1944, and arrived at Greenock, Scotland, on the 15th. They landed in France with 3″ towed guns, beginning on June 14, and were committed in the vicinity of Cerisy, fighting at Vire during the breakout in July and early August.
The 612th moved to Brittany and supported the siege and capture of Brest in late August and September and then shifted to Belgium in October and supported operations against the Siegfried Line until December. They engaged the Germans in the Honsfeld, Belgium, area at the outbreak of Battle of the Bulge and converted to a self-propelled battalion (M18’s) beginning on December 29, 1944. They joined the attack through the Monschau Forest in February, 1945, and crossed the Rhine River in March, participating in the race through central Germany to Leipzig in April.
The unit crossed the Czechoslovakian border on May 6 and took up occupational duties. Hank received credit for each of the unit’s five campaigns of Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes-Alsace and Central Europe. In addition to Hank, his four brothers also served in WWII.
Hank returned to California and on February 9, 1946, he married the former Elizabeth Jane Thompson who was born in Lebam, Washington. She was the daughter of Charles Thompson and Mabel Goodell. The new couple had three daughters, Christine, born in 1947, Julia in 1949 and Sylvia in 1951. Hank was hired by the Paramount Water Company, as a field engineer, where he worked until his retirement.
In his spare time, Hank enjoyed hunting and fishing and was a member of the Elks. After his retirement, he remained active and was elected to the Paramount City Council at the age of 74, serving the community for 17 years. At the age of 91, he was the oldest sitting member. He was also active in the League of Contract Cities, Vector Control District and SEACA, the animal control organization. He had also remained in the Army Reserves for 10 years after the war, finally resigning in 1956, at the rank of Captain. He wanted to stay in longer but his employer didn’t want to provide him with time off for his reserve duties.
Hank passed away on August 31, 2011, at the age of 100, and was buried in the Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside California. The photo above, of a young Hank, was taken when he was 16. I want to thank Hank’s son-in-law, Michael, for providing the photos and information for this tribute.