Every year, Danny Harris, an 81-year old World War II veteran from Cabin John, climbs his aluminum ladder to put flags up along Macarthur Boulevard. "He's got more community spirit than a lot of other people combined," said Burr Gray of Cabin John. "There's a wealth of people who have benefited over the years from Danny's spirit."
Harris and a group from the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars put up the flags, about 37 of them from Persimmon Tree Road to the Union Arch Bridge.
Harris has done it every year since he joined the group in 1972. For the past few years, he's had help from his wife, Margaret. This is the second marriage for both of them, and they have been married for two years. "He's a wonderful man, a very charitable person," she said. "You couldn't ask for a better neighbor or a better friend. The only trouble is I can't get him to take me on a honeymoon." Combined, they have five children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
When Harris turned 18, World War II was raging across Europe and the Pacific. Harris joined his older brothers in the Navy, serving on the U.S.S. Winslow. "I guess when you are a young person, you want to do something," Harris said.
The Winslow was a destroyer which operated in the north and south Atlantic, mostly engaged in anti-submarine warfare. Harris served as a Gunner's Mate, operating several different guns on the ship.
It would patrol the waters, and act as a guard for transports ships crossing the sea. The ship would use its sonar to listen for the German subs, when they heard the signs of a submarine, his ship would launch depth charges over the side. "I'm not sure how many we got," Harris said, "but we dropped a ton of depth charges."
When operating in the South Atlantic, his ship came upon three German blockade runners. They ordered the Germans off of their ships and sank them. As the Germans left, they opened valves to try and sink their ships, but the ships were full of bits of rubber and wouldn't sink.
The Winslow opened fire, cutting the ships in half. They sank then. The survivors were taken aboard and then taken to Brazil, where they were held as prisoners of war.
Harris was a foster child and he and his five brothers, who all served in the military, grew up in Glen Echo Heights.
AFTER THE WAR, he returned to the area, and worked as a map clerk with the Army Corps of Engineers.
He then worked as a plumber and then again worked for the Navy as a pipefitter. He retired from the Navy in 1985, and a natural disaster in West Virginia led him into his second career.
He went to help victims of a flood, and upon his return he continued to help. Harris is the Montgomery County representative of the Interfaith Consortium of Greater Cumberland.
He married his second wife, Margaret, two years ago. Combined, the two have five children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The couple have developed a relationship with local builders, and before the builders are going to tear down an old house, they go in.
Together, Danny and Margaret Harris move the kitchen and bathroom fixtures, doorframes, and other parts of the houses. "We recycle anything we can to stop it from going to the landfill," Harris said.
He also has a relationship with Moyer and Son moving, who come and haul the fixtures to Cumberland where they are redistributed to needy families. "It keeps me out of trouble," Harris said. "I love to do what I'm doing."