Memorial services and a celebration of his home going for John Peter Harrell, 93, are scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday at Craddock Funeral Home, following an earlier private interment. Those attending will be invited to share their remembrances of Johnnie. Pastor Steve Troxel of San Antonio will officiate. Viewing will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. The family will receive friends during this time.
"Johnnie" Harrell was welcomed into Christ's presence Saturday evening, December 1, 2012. His health began failing in late October, and he succumbed of natural causes in Kerrville, Texas. Johnnie was born April 26, 1919, in Pooleville, Carter County, Oklahoma, the second of the three children of Sidney G. Harrell and Cynthia Trout Harrell.
He was preceded in death by his wife of 60 years, Jean McDaniel Harrell, who died in 2002; his older brother, Sidney Booth "Boots" Harrell; and grandsons, Wendell Young and Jeffrey Young.
He is survived by his younger sister, Theda Cunningham of Tulsa; by his three children, Marcia Livermore of Kerrville, Pete Harrell of San Antonio, and Cindy Young of Santa Rosa, Calif.; grandchildren, John Livermore, Frisco, Texas, Christy Livermore Jagodik, Austin, Texas, Bret Harrell, Coppell, Texas, and Dr. Brandon Harrell, Franklin, Tenn.; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Johnnie was a man of great physical strength and athletic accomplishment. He attended Franklin Elementary and Ardmore High School and entered Oklahoma A&M University on a wrestling scholarship in 1937 after winning the State Championship at 185 pounds in 1935. He won the NCAA Heavyweight Championship and the world amateur championship in 1939. Though not the biggest or quickest man in the heavyweight bracket, he was blessed with such incredible upper body and grip strength that once he got his hands on an opponent, it was pretty much all over.
He worked summers in the oilfields of southern Oklahoma where the back-breaking work to others was a light workout for him.
He entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1940 in the Class of 1943 with several others from Oklahoma A&M, following their beloved wrestling coach. After exhausting his collegiate wrestling eligibility, he was cajoled into joining Navy's football program where, though having never played before, he rapidly developed into a blocking back, starring in Navy's victories over arch rival West Point each year he played. Adding to his athletic prowess, he was also an academic and military star at Annapolis, commanding one of the two Battalions his final year. He was passionate in his love for the Navy and the Academy, visiting there many times in later years.
Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, his class at Annapolis was accelerated, and he graduated a year early in June 1942 with a degree in electrical engineering and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy. He married his high school sweetheart, Jean, later that month. Though selected and qualified for flight training, he was initially assigned to the gunnery division in the USS Boston, CA-69, and served in the Pacific theater of WWII supporting amphibious operations against Japanese held islands. Finally transferred into the flight training pipeline in March of 1944, he underwent preliminary training at the Naval Air Station, Grand Prairie, Texas. Transitioning to Pensacola, he rapidly advanced and received his wings of gold piloting the new Chance Vought F4U Corsair, the pre-eminent carrier-based fighter plane of WWII. His squadron deployed in the USS Princeton, CV-37, out of Pearl Harbor, but did not arrive in theater until after the Japanese surrender. To the great relief of Jean and infant daughter Marcia, he saw no combat as a pilot.
Leaving the Navy after the war, he returned to Ardmore and began working for his father-in-law, Sam McDaniel, in the Coca-Cola Bottling Company of Ardmore, rising over the years to the position of general manager. Upon the death of Mr. McDaniel in 1966, he oversaw the expansion into new product lines and saw the business grow and flourish until selling the firm in the early 1980s.
Johnnie remained an avid aviator his entire life, owning and piloting a series of small planes until he voluntarily surrendered his pilot's license at age 86. Johnnie always loved the outdoors, hunting, fishing, camping and playing golf. He was an expert wing shooter and loved his bird dogs. The quail of southern Oklahoma trembled in fear at their approach. He and Jean spent many days together fishing the lakes of Oklahoma, Texas and northern Mexico, and he was an expert fly fisherman, wading trout streams all over Colorado.
He was a lifelong member of the First Methodist Church in Ardmore, where he continued in faithful worship until his death. He enjoyed a long association with the Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club, winning several tournaments over the years and still enjoying frequent dinners there after the infirmities of age rendered him incapable of further play on the links. He was a qualified scuba diver and an excellent snow skier, ballroom dancer and gin rummy player.
He was strong of body and spirit, a man of great moral strength and Honor Code convictions. He will be remembered as a paragon of absolute honesty and integrity, a man of quality and competitiveness who excelled at all that he attempted. He was elected to the Ardmore Hall of Fame in 2002. Heaven has gained a hero, and a great void has been left in the hearts of those who knew and loved him and the community he loved and served.
Online condolences can be made at www.cradddockfuneralhome.com.