Harry S. Gann
Harry S. Gann
The old Douglas Aircraft bird farm was a fertile breeding ground for legends - not only in terms of the aircraft they put on our flightlines, but also in the men who designed and built them. The pioneering and engineering genius of Donald Douglas, Jack Northrop and Ed Heinemann immediately come to mind.
Another legend who flourished at Douglas was a respected, quiet, supremely modest guy whom many of our Association members knew well. Harry Gann's determined route from high school athlete in Arizona, to earning a Mechanical Engineering degree at USC, and then on into a career in aviation, was via a tour as a WWII ground-pounder with General George S. Patton. At the Battle of the Bulge, he was wounded by a land mine.
After some serious post-war rehab (and with his hard-won engineering degree in hand), Harry spent a few years with smaller companies, then signed on at North American Aircraft before moving to the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1954. At Douglas, he worked as a mechanical designer on control systems for the A4D Skyhawk, A3D Skywarrior, F4D Skyray and the F5D Skylancer. Along the way, just like his good friend R. G. Smith (another Douglas Legend), Harry developed a parallel career interest. In Harry's case, it was using scholarly research and often daring photography from cockpits and runways to record aviation history.
As the powers at Douglas became aware of Harry's deep love for aviation, the fact that he had co-authored a book on air racing while still in college, and that he was a founder and officer of the American Aviation Historical Society (AAHS), they concluded that his highest value to the company and to aviation in general was to turn this great talent loose on worldwide aviation. Thus, they vested him with the title: "Director of Information for Douglas Aircraft". Later in 1989 the title was changed to "Company Historian".
Now Harry was off and running on what would become more than four decades of being "The Source" for historical facts and photo records of Douglas commercial and military products. Needless to say, his repertoire continually expanded to include experimental and military aircraft of other U.S. and foreign origins as well.
When Douglas folded into MacAir, Harry didn't skip a beat. He was already the unofficial Blue Angel photographer and was named an Honorary Blue Angel in 1979. But the Marine Corps had already beaten that by making him an Honorary Marine Aviator in 1975. To top it off, he was designated Honorary Naval Aviator Number 24 by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Jay Johnson, at the annual ANA convention in May 1997, thereby joining two other illustrious Douglas alumni who had been accorded that rare honor - Ed Heinemann and R. G. Smith.
Harry's research products and photo archives, which he readily shared with any legitimate inquiry, have been featured in virtually every aviation publication worth its salt and in many other media throughout the world. Moreover, he has been personally acclaimed by many of those professional organizations. Our favorite is Roy Stafford's great piece on Harry, which was published in the November 1997 issue of Air Classics magazine. Roy's write-up notes how Harry was always eager to suit-up and do air-to-air shots of Marine formations - just as he did for the Blue Angels for seventeen years.
So, did Harry need more recognition? HE sure didn't think so, but there were many Marines who disagreed and here's just one reason why. Back in 1989, when Brigadier General Dave Shuter, CG MCAS El Toro, committed the station to development of a proper museum, Harry was one of the very first to join the volunteer support group which promptly incorporated as the MCAS El Toro Historical Foundation. As the fully occupied Douglas Historian, he still made time to donate his unique expertise to the project, bringing along other skilled volunteers from Douglas such as Tom Dozier, who refers to Harry as "walking history."
The immediate objective of the Station and the Foundation was to graduate from "Historical Holding" status to become certified by the Commandant of the Marine Corps as a "Command Museum" - the only such purely aviation-theme facility in the Marine Corps. When Harry retired from Douglas in 1992, Major General Drax Williams lured him to the Curator post at El Toro - which promptly led to that prized certification. The sheer power of Harry Gann's professional credentials turned the trick and we owe him - BIG TIME!
Brigadier General, USMC (Retired)
Harry, the Skyhawks bid you "Farewell" and wish you clear skies and a happy reunion with your countless friends.
Harry S. Gann Internment November 6, 2000.
National Cemetery, Riverside, California.
Internment Service "Missing Man" Fly-by made by:
VFA-146 Blue Diamond F/A-18 Hornets