James Guthrie Harbord grew up in Lyon County, went to college in Manhattan, left a short teaching career to join the army, and eventually became John J. Pershing’s deputy. From there he would become head of the Radio Corporation of America, better know as RCA.
Harbord was born in Bloomington, Illinois on March 21, 1866, but would grow up near Bushong, Kansas. He graduated from Kansas State Agricultural College in 1886, teaching there for two years. He enlisted in the army in 1889, and received a commission two years later.
He was with the army of occupation in Cuba following the Spanish-American War, then went to the Philippines for 12 years. He came home and was with Pershing in the 1916 Mexican Border Service. When World War I broke out, he went to Europe as Pershing’s chief of staff. He took command of the Marine forces and directed the action at Chateau Thierry and Belleau Wood in June 1918.
Pershing recalled him in August 1918 to take charge of supply. There was a need for greater efficiency in troop and supply movement, and Harbord was a success at it. He was promoted to Major General and received the Distinguished Service Medal.
After the war, President Wilson sent him on a fact-finding mission of the Middle East. He investigated the feasibility of the Balfour Declaration and Turkish-Armenian relations. One conclusion Harbord had was that “the temptation to reprisals for past wrongs” would make keeping the peace in the Middle East difficult. He was an eyewitness to the massacre of Armenians.
When General Pershing became Chief of Staff, Harbord would serve as his deputy. He retired from the army in 1922 to become president of RCA, becoming chairman of the board seven years later. He remained in that position until his death on August 27, 1947, at Rye, NY. He is buried at Arlington.
Leave a Reply