When Dana Harbaugh served in the Navy as a lead aircraft crewman in Desert Storm and Desert Shield, he said he was “shaken into reality.” The experience made him realize how important it is to keep our country free and to remember those who made it that way.
In 2000, Harbaugh joined the Pearl Harbor Survivor Association (PHSA) chapter in San Diego, where members have been working since 1958 to ensure future generations remember the history of Pearl Harbor and World War II. He found out about the chapter while teaching computer classes to older veterans in California when one of his students, the Vice President of the PHSA, nominated Harbaugh to become an honorary member.
Joining the PHSA led Harbaugh to create the Harley-Davidson Remember Pearl Harbor Tribute Motorcycle, also known as “Metal of Honor.” Harbaugh owns the motorcycle and created it to honor veterans. He often presents the bike at military events.
The motorcycle is covered with hand-engraved images related to the Pearl Harbor attack. The motorcycle shines with depictions of destroyed vessels, a list of Medal of Honor Recipients, colorful Hawaiian images, and the PHSA motto: “keep America alert.”
“I had no idea it would turn out this beautiful,” said Harbaugh. “People were coming out of the woodwork wanting to see it.”
The 49-year-old veteran traveled from Las Vegas to show the motorcycle at Milwaukee’s Harley-Davidson Museum, located on 400 W. Canal St. The presentation he gave on Nov. 3 was part of the museum’s Veteran’s Day weekend events and the Untold Stories Program. The museum often celebrates veterans because many Harley Davidson motorcycles have been used in wars. The museum has an entire exhibit of these motorcycles.
Christina Kutsch, Program Development Manager of the museum invited Harbaugh to present as part of the Untold Stories program, a series of presentations the museum provides to share different stories in depth.
“We’ve had a long history of working with the military and Harley-Davidson really has a deep appreciation for all the members who have served in the U.S. military,” said Kutsch.
His motorcycle accompanies the book he is planning on self-publishing, titled, “Pearls of Honor: Their Duty to Remember.” The book will include thousands of pictures he took of PHSA veterans participating in military events year round. He has about 32,000 pictures and is still taking them.
Tears rolled down his face as he described his motivation to the 20 people who attended the event.
“One of the sad things is that half of the guys I took photos of have passed away already,” he said. “These guys are so important to the history of America so I’m hoping it will carry on to future generations.”
He showed pictures from his book, including photos of veterans attending parades, PHSA anniversaries and other military events. He also showed photos of himself when he was in the Navy, the Pearl Harbor attack, and the engravings on his motorcycle.
Helping People Remember
Harbaugh said there were 2,403 people killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The event led to 407,000 deaths of American men and women in WWII, according to Harbaugh.
He hopes that his coffee table book will show people the Pearl Harbor survivors are continually doing their duty year-round, making sure those who served are never forgotten.
“These men are trying to keep Americans alert,” said Harbaugh. “I think it’s special because there are very few groups of people who devote their lives to that.”
Most of Harbaugh’s presentation showed photos of PHSA members. He highlighted the many photos taken of his good friend and the first Medal of Honor Recipient of WWII, John Finn, who passed away last May. Harbaugh explained that Finn had been wounded over 20 times in war and continued to keep fighting. Some of the photos can be seen on Harbaugh’s blog and website.
Photos were shown of Finn inspecting and signing the motorcycle. Harbaugh said in the last years of his life, Finn was invited to places all over the country to show at events. One photo shows Finn smiling with a bandage on his chin after the grand opening of the WWII memorial in Washington D.C.
“He actually tripped over President Clinton and hurt himself,” said Harbaugh. “I turned around and clicked a picture. The best ones I take are shooting from the hip.”
Harbaugh said one of his most honoring moments was leading 50 Patriot Guard Riders and a coach to Finn’s resting place in San Diego, while riding the Pearl Harbor Tribute Motorcycle. He held back tears as he went through the photos.
The majority of the people who attended the event were veterans or knew someone who had served in the military. Jeff Raddatz, a dedicated member of the museum, has a father who served in WWII. He said he has a great appreciation for what Harbaugh is doing.
“The motorcycle is a great learning tool because it gets people asking questions when they see all the engravings on it,” said Raddatz. “I’m glad someone’s doing this because there are not many veterans left.”
Metal of Honor
The bike was a plain, black motorcycle before it was transformed into a shiny, white Pearl Harbor Tribute-covered with symbolic engravings and colors of gold, red and green.
Harbaugh showed photos of Sandy Steiner and Jason Steiner of Chrome Fusion, a motorcycle engraving company located in Las Vegas, engraving the designs by hand. Harbaugh said he had no design plan set at first.
“I just knew I wanted to put as many facts and figures about the attack as I could,” said Harbaugh. “I was at Chrome Fusion almost every day for nine months going over the details.”
Harbaugh explained the significance of the engravings during his presentation. On the left case there is a list of the 15 Medal of Honor Recipients. A picture of Finn is engraved, along with a copy of the citation from the back of his Medal of Honor, located on the gas tank of the motorcycle.
The right side of the tank has the U.S.S. Arizona battle ship. The vessel was destroyed by a shell dropped from 10,000 ft. There were 1,077 men killed instantly, according to Harbaugh.
The right side of the fender has an image of the U.S.S. Ward, known for firing the first American shots of WWII, according to Harbaugh. The WWII Victory medal is engraved on the gas cap.
Harbaugh refers to his motorcycle as “a rolling tribute and history lesson.” Once it was finished in 2009, he traveled around Vegas, where he lives, and the Southern California area to show the design. He said Milwaukee is the farthest east he has traveled with the bike.
After bringing the motorcycle to Mountain View Lutheran Elementary School in California, the teacher told Harbaugh the students were researching the history of Pearl Harbor after seeing the bike. Harbaugh said many of the students never even heard of Pearl Harbor.
He also has shown the motorcycle at other Harley-Davidson Museums. “I am blown away by the responses I’ve had,” said Harbaugh. “People who have seen every motorcycle out there are saying they’ve never seen anything like it. That is pretty special.”