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Hemet veteran, 96, who survived on a raft after World War II, dies

Bill Harrison, who survived six days on a raft after his Navy ship sank in a typhoon at the end of World War II and spent more than 70 years sharing his story of faith and survival, died Tuesday, Aug. 7.
The Hemet resident, who died at Loma Linda University Medical Center — Murrieta, was 96.
Harrison wrote a book about his adventure, appropriately titled “6 Days on a Raft,” and told his story  — which is being turned into a film — to numerous church, veteran and school groups.

Harrison was the last surviving crew member of the wooden-hulled Navy minesweeper USS YMS-472, which sank off Okinawa in September 1945 during a super-typhoon off Japan’s southern-most islands shortly after the war ended.
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Harrison, who was a 23-year-old machinist when the ship sank, went without food or water.

On what he thought would be his final day before dying, Harrison prayed and promised to be a servant to God if he was rescued, said Forrest Haggerty, a Hemet teacher who co-authored “6 Days of a Raft” in 2007.
“He kept his promise to God after that rescue,” Haggerty said. “Up until his last few days, he was telling his story, sharing his testimony.”
Harrison shared his feelings at his 96th birthday party in December.
“God has been so good to me,” he said, uttering one of his trademark sayings. “I think God rescued me because he had a job for me to do.”
After Haggerty, who lives in Temecula, wrote a book about the radioman on the Enola Gay, he said people told him he should meet Harrison.
WWII veteran Herbert “Bill” Harrison, of Hemet, is shown in a U.S. Navy portrait when he was a 23-year-old 2nd Class petty officer. Harrison, who survived the sinking of his ship, the USS YMS-472, and six days on a raft after a typhoon in September 1945, died Tuesday, Aug. 8, at 96. (File photo)
Haggerty invited Harrison to tell his story at a Kiwanis Club meeting then offered to help him write his book.
“Everybody loved him,” Haggerty said. “He was always a positive human being. I never saw him have a bad day,”
Tim Lowry of DesertRock Entertainment is producing and directing the film based on Harrison’s book. He said the film has been in and out of production, but is moving forward.
“It’s just sad because he’s not going to actually get to see it,” Lowry said. “Now we’re more than ever committed to get it done in his honor.”
Though Harrison will never see the film, he joined the glitterati for Oscars week  2016 — walking the red carpet, rubbing shoulders with celebrity nominees and autographing copies of his book.
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Harrison raised a family in Whittier and worked as a carpenter and general contractor, building churches, homes and commercial buildings on the West Coast. He moved to Hemet more than 30 years ago.
Rich Harrison, 75, said he grew up hearing his father’s story.
“He meant every word that he talked about all the time,” Rich Harrison said. “His faith was very important to him.”
Harrison said no services have been set, but a memorial is planned in Hemet.

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