WARSAW — According to statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau, only about 5 percent of married couples reach their 50th wedding anniversary — and no statistics are available for marriages that make it to 75 years simply because that doesn’t often happen.
Joe and Joan Harris, who reside at Miller’s Merry Manor in Warsaw, are beating the odds.
The Harris’ celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in January.
“We still love each other very much and we’ve had to be honest with each other,” Joe said. “I think that has brought us to where we are.”
Both Joe and Joan are originally from Ohio. Joe graduated from Rushsylvania High School in 1943. He told his father he wanted to join the Navy, and enlisted on Sept. 15,1943.
Joe attended boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and was soon accepted into the quartermaster school. He graduated in March 1944, in the top 10 percent of his class.
On April 29, 1944, Joe and 24 comrades, along with four officers, boarded Landing Craft Infantry 600 and set out for the Pacific. Near the end of July, their ship headed a seven-ship fleet toward Pearl Harbor.
Jan. 12, 1945, began as an ordinary day for the crew — it ended up being anything but that. They were patrolling Ulithi, where a two-man enemy submarine had been identified earlier, when they received orders to pick up a sailor on a destroyer who needed to be taken to the hospital ship for appendicitis.
After traveling for about 20 minutes, crew members at the back of the ship relayed information to the tower that they were very close to coral.
Joe recalls being ordered to make a hard right. He did — and at that time, there was an explosion. They had struck a mine.
“I flew up in the air and hit my head,” Joe said. “I had a big gash around my head, a broken nose and some of my teeth were knocked out.”
The survivors were taken to Pearl Harbor. Joe later received a Purple Heart, a medal presented to service members who have been wounded or killed as a result of enemy action while serving in the U.S. military.
He was sent to California for a month before receiving orders to ship out, although the destination was unclear. Joe and his comrades eventually discovered they were being sent to Leyte, in the recently liberated Philippines.
In July, the cruiser USS Indianapolis, which had just delivered components of the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, was scheduled to arrive at their harbor, but it never came.
Joe found out later that a Japanese submarine had torpedoed the Indianapolis, which sank in 12 minutes. Of the 1,195 crew members on board the cruiser, 300 were reported to have gone down with the ship.
The remaining 890 crew members, who were stranded in open water, battled dehydration, exposure to the elements, delirium from drinking saltwater and shark attacks.
The Navy didn’t learn about the sinking of the cruiser until four days later when survivors were discovered by crew members of another ship. In the end, there were only 316 survivors. The loss has been reported as the greatest single loss of life at sea, from a single ship, in the history of the U.S. Navy.
The war ended Aug. 15, 1945. After Joe had returned home in March 1946, his sister told him she knew a girl who wanted to go out with him. That girl was Joan.
Joe and Joan dated through the summer of 1946. He began college in September. They were married on Jan. 1, 1947.
They relocated to Warsaw from Ohio in1963.
Joe taught mathematics for 24 years at Warsaw Community High School and also coached sports.
“I had the most success with golf,” Joe said.
He was offered the position of boys’ golf coach prior to the 1965-66 season and remained there for 24 seasons.
In 1987, the squad went 23-0 and held the state’s top ranking, placing third in the state finals. During the 24-year period under Joe’s leadership, Warsaw Tiger golf achieved a 349-95 record.
The program won 13 NLC championships, including 11 titles in a row. They secured 11 sectionals, made 19 regional appearances, captured one regional title and had nine state finals appearances.
Joe Harris was inducted into the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Hall of Fame in 1986 by the Indiana High School Golf Coaches Association.
The Joe Harris Invitational, an annual golf event held in May each year, was created in Joe’s honor.
Joe and Joan have five children: Vicky, Bonnie, Mike, John and Jim; 13 grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
When asked what the most important thing about marriage is, the couple responded,“To love one another with all your heart and to be honest with one another.”