William Harrington, a World War II pilot and war hero, died recently at the age of 98.
Harrington was described by his daughter Mary Atchison, the oldest of nine children, as a survivor. “He survived World War II, the (Great) Depression, two earthquakes and a fire that destroyed his whole home.”
The 2008 Sayre Fire burned down Harrington’s home in Sylmar, prompting him and his wife, Mary Catherine, to move to the Santa Clarita Valley.
As an Army Air Corps pilot, Harrington was injured in a plane crash in the South Pacific during World War II. After working to evacuate most of his crew, “They had to hold him back from going back to get more,” Atchison said.
The plane had caught fire, so Harrington was severely burned over a large portion of his body as a result. Even his eyes were burned, which left him blinded for six months as they healed.
Though he didn’t talk much about the war, he was given an opportunity to fly in an old World War II plane in recent years, and he noted at the time he didn’t recall them being so small, according to Atchison. “He called them box cars that flew,” she added, chuckling.
“He’s been through a lot, but he lived a very full life and was an actual war hero in my eyes,” Harrington’s grandson Bill Shannon said. “He never said a cross word in his life and smiled until the day he passed.”
Harrington raised seven of nine children, as the other two died in infancy, and lost a son in Vietnam and another about five years ago to a heart attack.
He taught until he was 85, and only retired because Mary Catherine broke her hip and he had to take care of her, Atchison said. They were married 67 years before she died in 2009.
“He was such a hard worker,” Atchison added. “Things were tough at different times, but he just kept plugging along — that’s where we got our work ethic.”
In 2016, he moved to Utah to be closer to Atchison, and resided in Southern Utah Veterans Home until he died.
Harrington was also described as a very generous man who always listened.
“He’d give you the shirt off his back,” Atchison added. “We called him the ‘Chatty Cathy’ — you could call him and talk to him for hours.”
Harrington was given a military funeral Nov. 15, and was buried at San Fernando Mission Cemetery, next to Mary Catherine and his son, among other family members.