MVictors: Blue Books

Writer Fredric Alan Maxwell is pulling together a biography of Michigan legend Tom Harmon titled, ‘The Late Great 98’. Michigan Today released a excerpt of the book that will be released chapter by chapter over time in a unique format, and will eventually result in a hard copy book. Details are found on

The Late Great 98 is the Tom Harmon Biography-in-progress that is being published on an advanced subscription basis. People who purchase reduced-rate advance copies will be e-mailed Harmon stories and chapters as they are written, which they can review and comment on, thus becoming part of the editorial process. Hard cover books containing the final draft will be printed and delivered by mail to subscribers before they are sold in bookstores.

Maxwell’s book intro discusses some of the controversy around Harmon’s military service in World War II. There were accusations out there discrediting Harmon’s military service, summarized below:

…very persistent rumor is afloat to the effect that Tom Harmon, when he crashed in South America was yellow, that he, contrary to all traditions and rules of the Air Service (sic), bailed out first whereas it is the duty of the pilot to be the last to jump. Rumor has it that that was the reason that Tom was the only one to survive that crash. It is also said that he is thoroughly discredited throughout the Air Force because of that alleged fact and that he never would be able to get any cooperation from members of the service.’

Maxwell’s research discredits these rumors, showing that Harmon’s record of service was indeed clean and furthermore, commendable (he received a Silver Star). On the official record eventually Secretary of War Henry Stimson responded to a request from a Michigan senator and concluded in a 52 page report: “the War Department denounces these stories and deplores the circulation of such unfounded rumors.”

These stories and rumors persist, I’ve read them on message boards and the like. I’m glad to see Maxwell looked into it and didn’t just go with a feel good piece on Harmon.

The book is truly still in the works, in fact Maxwell is still compiling his research. The author requests that anyone with Harmon anecdotes, photographs, letters or other Harmon memorabilia or memories contact him at

Here’s an anecdote, does anyone know how Harmon ended up with #98? I do, how about you Fred?

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  1. Fredric Alan Maxwell

    If I didn’t know how Harmon got the moniker “Old 98” I wouldn’t be worth my lithium as an author.

    As he wrote (in a source that I have), when he tried out for his varsity squad at Horrace Mann High in Gary, the coach threw him off the team for blowing bubbles with his gum. He convinced the coach to allow him to return kicks in practice. Tom returned the first one for a touchdown. His coach decided that it wasn’t a bad idea to keep him around, so he put him on the JV squad. The JV squad used discarded varsity jerseys. Harmon went to the discard bin and found the worst jersey that he could, which was, of course, 98. Some say that this is yet-another example of Harmon’s humble nature, of reminding himself not to get too cocky. Others say it was Harmon rubbing his coach’s nose in it.

    Now, does anyone know his number when he played for the Rams?

  2. I believe he wore #88 for the Rams?

    As far as the #98, that pretty much what I’ve seen. Here’s an explanation from an interview with his son Mark Harmon from a 2006 interview in Sports Illustrated:

    Harmon: As a freshman he was once chewing gum while the coach was talking and the coach got upset. He told him to get off the field but my dad said no. So they lined him up against the varsity and they kicked off to him and he ran three consecutive kickoffs for touchdowns. The coach told him to go to the office and pick out a uniform. So he did and he was the first one there. He picked the newest jersey, newest pair of pads, newest everything. He felt good and as he came back down from the office, the rest of the team was coming up. He went down to the field and the coach told him he had the starting halfback’s uniform on. The coach said, “Go take it off and get something else.” So he went back there and everything was gone except a moth-eaten torn-up jersey in the corner. Number 98. He loved that number and it came up continually in his life. It was the name of his sports-production company.


  3. According to other pilots, Harmon was indeed the first one out. a B17 (my Dad), a p 38 and a p 51 pilot(both aces) on different occasions said that they had heard the rumor. It was covered up because Harmon was a war hero. I will give him the benefit of the doubt but no other survivors does cause suspicion. Besides, NCis is my favorite show.

  4. dennis j ramont

    my uncle fred was his copilot on that mission tom came to our house in lansing to see my mother. i know they never did find my uncles body . i would like to no the truth what really happened on that day? my uncle dale is still alive . but he has never told the story what happened to his brother.

  5. I was told that Harmon ended up alone in the jungle. He was injured, and my cousin, Dr. Arthur Entin, and others, parachuted in to, and did, save him. This is first I’ve heard of any cowardice talk. My family heard this from Entin’s family.